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TripAdvisor Wiggles Out of $550,000 Fine Over False Reviews

A court said this week that it was impossible for the site to verify the validity of each review.

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TripAdvisor — the controversial review site popular across Europe — has escaped a €500,000 ($550,000 USD) fine. According to The Local, an Italian watchdog agency fined a local subsidiary of TripAdvisor in December, saying that the company's advertising had emphasized "the authentic and genuine nature of the reviews, persuading consumers to believe the information is always reliable and reflects real tourist experiences." However, a court ruled this week that the website "never asserted that all [reviews] were real" and added that it was impossible to verify the validity of each comment on the site one by one. TripAdvisor no longer has to pay the fine.

Telecompaper notes that Italy's restaurant and hotel trade association Federalberghi is quite disappointed over the reversal. The association says the decision confirms that Italy's legislation allows for companies to avoid having to correct their bad practices. Federalberghi pointed out the recent case of a phantom restaurant rising to the top of TripAdvisor's rankings thanks to fake reviews.

Earlier this month, Italian magazine Italia a Tavola decided to reveal the flaws in TripAdvisor's system. To do this, the magazine created an imaginary restaurant and added 10 fake, perfectly-scored reviews to the page. In less than a month, the restaurant — which does not actually exist — was rated the best restaurant in the town of Mongia del Gara, beating out another restaurant with over 200 incredibly positive reviews. The magazine has started a campaign to try to force TripAdvisor to only let users post comments if they can provide proof that they dined at the restaurant.

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