The ACCC has issued proceedings against serviced apartment provider, Meriton, alleging misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to reviews posted on TripAdvisor.
Posting fake online reviews has been a key focus for the ACCC for quite some time. In this case, the ACCC has changed tack by claiming that a brand took steps to stop customers from posting negative reviews.
TripAdvisor provides a ‘Review Express’ service to participating businesses. A participating business provides TripAdvisor with the contact details of customers who have consented to receiving a ‘Review Express’ email from TripAdvisor, inviting the customer to submit a review about their experience.
The ACCC alleges that from November 2014 to October 2015, senior management at Meriton told staff to either not provide TripAdvisor with email addresses of guests who they thought were likely to complain, or to doctor the email addresses so that TripAdvisor’s email to those customers would bounce (in a process called ‘masking’).
The behaviour is alleged to have taken place at Meriton properties that experienced infrastructure or service failures, such as no hot water, disruptions to phone services or lifts out of order.
Why is this a problem?
The ACCC alleges that Meriton’s conduct had the effect of distorting the reviews and star ratings on TripAdvisor.
Said ACCC Commissioner, Sara Court, “Consumers rely on independent review platforms like Trip Advisor when making purchasing decisions.
If reviews are manipulated to falsely create a more favourable impression about a provider, consumers may choose that provider on the basis of that falsehood over another accommodation provider who has not engaged in misleading conduct.”
The ACCC is seeking penalties, declarations, injunctions, corrective publication orders, orders for the implementation of a consumer law compliance program and costs.
Meriton is defending the claims.
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