UK rules TripAdvisor no longer trustworthy

TripAdvisor was barred on Wednesday from marketing itself as “honest” and “trusted” in the U.K. after a government agency ruled consumers were too likely to be fooled by fraudulent reviews.

After a four-month investigation, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled that since fradualent entries could be posted without verification, TripAdvisor could no longer market the user-generated online hotel review website to consumers as being honest and trustworthy.

“Whilst TripAdvisor took steps to monitor and deal with suspicious activity, it was possible that non-genuine content would appear on the site undetected,” the ruling stated. “Because we considered that the claims implied that consumers could be assured that all review content on the TripAdvisor site was genuine, when we understood that might not be the case, we concluded that the claims were misleading.”

The investigation was initiated by an official complaint from online reputation consulting company KwikChex after it spent months collecting data on allegedly false and derogatory reviews of hotels posted on TripAdvisor websites. Since then investigative articles by U.K. media outlets have reportedly uncovered malfeasant hotel owners posting fake reviews.

TripAdvisor, which spun off from its former parent company Expedia Inc. in December 2011, has already removed said references from its site and issued a statement calling the ruling “highly technical” and asserting that consumers were continuing to use the website because of their trust in its veracity.

“The Advertising Standards Agency has taken a highly technical view around some marketing copy that was used in a limited capacity. We have confidence that the 50 million users who come to our site every month trust the reviews they read on TripAdvisor, which is why they keep coming back to us in increasingly larger numbers to plan and have the perfect trip,” TripAdvisor said in a public statement. “The ruling flies in the face of common sense, and is out of touch with the millions of real people who use and trust consumer review sites like ours every day.”

An earlier investigation into fake reviews on TripAdvisor by the U.K. Office of Fair Trading continues. TripAdvisor maintains that the vast majority of reviews on its website are legitimate and there is “zero tolerance” for hoteliers and reviewers breaking policy. Penalties include getting a red badge for phony reviews posted on the hotel’s review page.