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A Peddler of Fake Reviews on TripAdvisor Gets Jail Time (skift.com)
93 points by elorant 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments





TripAdvisor hopes that jail time will scare off the dishonest folks creating fake reviews. We hope so, too.

That's the take of the Skift travel blog? No description in the article about the law that was broken and whether or not it can be applied to violators outside of Italy.

And, honestly, if peddlers of fake reviews are criminally liable and can be sentenced to jail then there's a problem with the law. TripAdvisor, Amazon, Apple, and Google definitely need to boost the disincentives for posting fake reviews, but referring suspected offenders for criminal prosecution is over the top unless fraud or other serious crimes are involved.


> unless fraud or other serious crimes are involved

Fraud: wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain

Pretending to be someone you're not to make money by lying is fraud, plain and simple.


So every fake review is to be treated as a case of full-on criminal fraud?

These cases need to be pursued in civil court, if at all. A better approach is for TripAdvisor, Amazon, et al is A) set up a better system to positively identify fake reviews and B) to ban both the providers and purchasers of fake reviews, including owners, senior executives, and colluding staff. If the disincentives are strong enough and consistently and fairly enforced a lot of bad actors will be cleared out in short order and responsible companies won't go near this stuff.


The person was making a business of it, it was not just a casual, occasional lie.

This is systemically poisoning the well of public trust upon which society relies to function.

We only have a prosperous society because we have widespread trustworthyness.

You propose that breaking it down is meaningless.


>> if peddlers of fake reviews are criminally liable and can be sentenced to jail then there's a problem with the law.

Do you come from a background where crime and fraud is normal?

This is outright fraud, plain and simple. They are paid to making false representations in order to deceive people and get their money.

By your logic, you'd be OK with it if I posted that the car I was selling worked great, but after you sent me the money and got the car, you found that the engine had blown a connecting rod through the case that wasn't pictured and the body was totally rusted out under a thin layer of paint. No crime, just a bad review. Oh well.

It is about time someone was jailed for this sort of polluting the common well of society, and it's appropriate that it was someone who had a business perpetrating such fraud.


> "By your logic, you'd be OK with it if I posted that the car I was selling worked great, but after you sent me the money and got the car, you found that the engine had blown a connecting rod through the case that wasn't pictured and the body was totally rusted out under a thin layer of paint. No crime, just a bad review. Oh well."

I am not a lawyer, but I am pretty sure that is civil court, not criminal.

> "It is about time someone was jailed for this sort of polluting the common well of society"

I don't know what specifically, but this comment makes me very uneasy. At the very least, I do not consider TripAdvisor the common well of society.


>I am not a lawyer, but I am pretty sure that is civil court, not criminal.

Nope, it can be both civil and/or criminal, it's only a matter of whether it is a private party or an official prosecutor pursuing the case:

https://bochettoandlentz.com/criminal-fraud-vs-civil-fraud-w... "..the basic difference between criminal fraud and civil fraud lies in who is pursuing legal action in the case. A single act of fraud can be prosecuted as a criminal fraud by prosecutors, and also as a civil action by the party that was the victim of the misrepresentation..."

>>I do not consider TripAdvisor the common well of society.

It is a business that earns its living by using one of the common wells of society.

Think for just 1 second -- if no one trusted anyone, a business like TripAdvisor could never even consider existing -- no one would do anything but laugh at the concept that another stranger could give them advice that could be useful or accurate. It is obviously not the only well, it is just one locus among many, which happens to earn it's living entirely by the existence of trust and willingness of people to help others.

The jailed person is specifically trying to earn his living by putting poison in that well. Some penitence might do him some good, and at least does the rest of us good by removing him from this activity for a while, and perhaps deterring him and others from this anti-social behaviour.

Why do you think anti-social behaviour is OK? (serious question)


> No description in the article about the law that was broken

Not sure how legally accurate, but they did quote someone from TripAdvisor on the matter:

> “Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result,” said Brad Young, vice president, associate general counsel at TripAdvisor, in a statement.


It's fraud, subject to jail just like other types of fraud.

Writing fake reviews is fraud.

Trip advisor: “here is the IP address used for the fake review - you can tell it is fake”

Government raids house.

Government: “case closed we got the bastard. He keeps crying he is innocent - but it was his ip.”


"intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right."

is the attribution here perhaps perversion of truth to rob this poor man of his free life? maybe the government is committing fraud by attributing this to him? xD


I am italian and i won't ever understand my country! We are years behind other tech countries (in terms of laws and legislation and business support) and we are the land of neverending trials and let a lot of crimes be committed without effective punishment and then an italian court sent to prison somebody for fake reviews...i'm happy they let justice do its work in this case, simply it seems so unusual and a little bit exaggerated since others crimes aren't punished with the same severity

Londoner here -- I see a lot of your compatriots working on awesome tech products. To boot, they all seem to be TechItalia graduates, so it seems like Italy has a serious brain-drain problem :/

I am one of these "escaped brains". The explanation is extremely simple. In my case, after finishing Uni (degree in CS), I applied for few companies in my area, near Verona which is a wealthy part of Italy.

The best salary I managed to bargain was around 1000 euro per month (gross). This leaves you with a 750 Euro net and basically no benefits. Take away rent, a little bit of leisure, and transportation costs you basically save nothing.

At that point I said fuck it. I started looking for jobs on the other side of the Alps and landed a job at Google in Switzerland that pays 10X that. And yes, Switzerland is crazy expensive, but not 10X Italy!

I miss Italy, but it now became a holiday destination for me.


Doe Italy not have a minimum wage, or is it just really low?

Some working categories have it, some don't. IT didn't back in 2013, the period when I decided to pack my stuff and go. Now I believe it has been incorporated in the metalworker category (see below).

Minimum salary for year 2018/2019 (hourly/monthly)

Clothing and fashion 6,60 € 1.144 € Agricolture 7,13 € 1.235,87 € Tourism 7,17 € 1.242,80 € Metalworker 7,32 € 1.268,80 € Construction 7,59 € 1.315,60 € Food industry 8,21 € 1.423,07 € Finance 11,11 € 1.925,73 €


I’m sure selling fake reviews is fraud in other countries too.

Err..

So yelp/tripa/whatever charges business for positive reviews and improved placement, but 3rd party frauds go to jail?

I suppose we will get community time for sharing our netflix password next ?


Disclaimer: I work at TripAdvisor.

Please don't lump TripAdvisor in with Yelp. You can't pay for a positive TA review, or for more prominent placement of your positive reviews. Our reviews are just listed in reverse chronological order. You also can't pay to appear higher on the hotel list of a given city.


"You also can't pay to appear higher on the hotel list of a given city."

This would seem to conflict with your statement: https://www.tripadvisor.com/TripAdvisorInsights/w588

"These ads drive high quality traffic to your business by appearing above search results"


Sure, we have sponsored placements in the first slot, which contain the word "sponsored" next to them. That's an ad, in the same way Google has ads, and it appears above the list. I'm saying we don't let you pay to change the order of the list itself, in the same way Google doesn't.

> So yelp/tripa/whatever charges business for positive reviews

Can you cite some sources to back that up?


Yelp charging for positive reviews is very well known.

I don't know that it's very well known, or widespread. But, they do pay their salespeople commission. It wouldn't be unusual for a commission salesperson to do and/or say anything needed to boost their income.

It's a very well known rumor, but I still haven't seen any proof.

Then it should be pretty easy to find a cite to some kind of evidence, right?

I don't particularly doubt it, but "it is well known" is not actually a citation or evidence of any kind.


I've decided and tried to remember that you pretty much can't trust ANY online reviews of ANYTHING. The dream of the internet is over.

https://www.recode.net/2018/3/18/16581030/mattress-reviews-n...


To be able to trust random Internet users was never a good dream because cheap identity is the Internet's default. (Not necessarily a bad one.) More surprising than reviews regressing to the mean is that it took them so long. Why?

Agreeing with you, I guess the weird thing is that it WORKED for 20 years or so!

I'm sure people have written a lot on this. I think some of it is because most people actually _are_ interested in treating each other respectfully, and the internet was smaller, with less opportunities for making money (at one point enforced anti-commercial in fact), and more homogenous (for better or worse).


If your dream of the internet was centered around reliable product reviews I feel bad for you

Nah, more like based on decentralized horizontal communication between real people forming 'virtual communities', right? For a couple decades it seemed like that. Are you old enough to remember the internet utopianism? Not on product reviews specifically, but on finding strangers you strangely could trust.

> Italian court handed down a nine-month prison sentence to a person who wrote fake hotel reviews

I heard it was reduced on appeal. Now he has to serve a week in prison, and the remaining four months are public service: he will temporarily join the cabinet, advising Italy's prime minister. He will receive no salary, just room and board: for anything else, he will have to leverage his position to hustle kickbacks.


The "strange" thing is that seemingly all this happened in June 2018, according to Trip Advisor themselves (Italian):

https://www.tripadvisor.it/TripAdvisorInsights/w4237

If you search for the "news", each and every italian (and not only) newspaper has something about it, published in the last 24 hours or so.


>“Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result,” said Brad Young, vice president, associate general counsel at TripAdvisor, in a statement.

I don't get this. Writing a fake review doesn't seem like fraud to me. What seems like fraud is a company passing off a fake review as it is legit. Which would mean that the company that paid for the fake review should be the one in legal trouble not the person writing the fake review.

Edit: I should clarify while leaving my original comment up. I phrased this poorly. What I should say is why is only the company who wrote the reviews being punished instead of the both the company who wrote the review AND the company that paid for the fraudulent review in the first place?


In addition, maybe. "I only did it for money" isn't really an excuse for the person actually making the reviews though. They submitted the reviews pretending they're legit.

You're right. I definitely didn't get my thoughts down in a correct manner and I added an edit. That said, actively paying somebody for a review that is not legit is definitely fraud as well, yet it doesn't seem like anybody who used PromoSalento's reviews were fined or jailed.

It's not an acceptable excuse, but if that's the reason, that's the reason; worse than an unacceptable excuse is a false excuse.

Is this peddler part of how "TripAdvisor changed travel"[0]?

[0]https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17870480


People who write inadequately negative reviews should be punished too.

Paid fake news is okay, but not this. Our value system is totally .... up !

From the article:

>The company has said that most attempts at review fraud are committed by a small minority of hotel and restaurant owners trying to boost their profile unfairly rather than knock another property.

>Anyone can post a review on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Minube, whereas a guest may only post a review of a hotel on online travel agency platforms if the person actually books at least one night at the hotel through the agency.

>In 2012, TripAdvisor was scolded by a UK watchdog group, the Advertising Standards Authority, for using promotional wording on its site saying that it offered “reviews you can trust… from real travellers… and trusted advice from real travellers.” The group said the company couldn’t back up the claim by proving that all of the reviews were genuine and from real travelers. However, strictly speaking, no system, based on verified bookers or not, could meet that standard.

How valuable is a review? What does it contrast to? Some imaginary background or average experience? It is hard to design a system such that there are no fake reviews. The fake reviews can take different forms: actual customers who were "bribed" (or is that just a discount?); paid reviewers did physically visit but who were bribed, possibly posting under false names, or simply fake reviews written by people who were never accomodated.

Here is my probably brainfart idea which tries to solve both problems at once:

HostCompare may be implemented centralized or decentralized, so I will describe the decentralized version, such that a centralized version can cull away some of the crypto (but then bribing central HostCompare is a vulnerabillity).

HostCompare: instead of reviews, customers booking accomodation in a city through hostcompare, will spend half of their visit at one accomodation, and half at another. The customer can navigate the comparisons between different places, and for each pair already tested view all the facets for which place A is better ">" or worse "<" than place B.

In exchange for the tourist traffic forwarded HostCompare demands a certain percentage of their income. Each host is free to generate its own keypair, and when the tourist arrives shows his passport/ID/... and the host signs the hash of: the name of the visitor and the Comparison's unique ID, and publishes it. This means that you can't create a positive review for your place without also generating customer traffic to your competition and convincing a tourist to co-operate. The comparison is only written once the consecutive stay at both hosts is over.

EDIT: I was going to write my idea more in-depth, including how HostCompare would use part of the profit to encourage (by making cheaper through discount) unexplored comparisons. Also finding cycles in the directed graph. Also how a host bribing a HostCompare tourist would only work if this bribe is offered indefinitely to HostCompare tourists. Furthermore it is more efficient to simply list a lower price at HostCompare since then you are paying less towards HostCommpare. The bribe is effectively a means to be secretly cheaper than listed. Comparisons are also better than reviews since the host can think about how to improve the situation, since it is in fact a comparison instead of a review in vacuum, or a review in comparison with vague memory of travels past, or a review in comparison with some unformalized expectation.


TLDR: "Taste can not be argued" but identity can.

rofl. jailed for leaving reviews. how to fill up your prison system and create messed up mind? just like that!

Based on even a cursory reading of the article, he was jailed for selling fake reviews - not leaving them. Profiting from deception is a common line to draw when defining fraud.

In addition, these reviews were unambiguously lies rather than puffery; the author never used the services that were reviewed.

But there are real victims with real damages, who depended on the reviews using trust and good faith, and were misled into an inferior experience. It's fraud because this is not a victimless crime.

It's just novel to civilization that typing a few sentences into a web form (or paying someone to do it) can hurt someone.

We need a legal framework that can punish this behavior.




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