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CHOICE warns of fake travel reviews and glowing blogs

November 14, 2013 Headline News, Social Media 1 Comment Email Email

egtmedia59Consumers shopping for travel and other services face challenges in sorting out real opinions from manufactured ones in the great swirl of websites, chat rooms, forums, Twitter feeds and review sites, Australian consumer watchdog CHOICE warns.

When browsing and booking, consumers should beware of “astroturfing” – the nickname given to artificially manufacturing the look of a grassroots online trend. It involves placing fake reviews or comments, which are really advertising in disguise.

CHOICE cites a study released by US-based research and technology group Gartner, which forecasts that by 2014, up to 15% of all online reviews will be fake, paid for by companies. Experts spoken to by CHOICE agree the trend is rising.EGT_Artical Banner A 250x250

The New York Attorney General recently imposed heavy fines on 19 companies which wrote fake online reviews and created bogus online profiles for businesses. Both the ACCC and NSW Fair Trading are said to be looking at following suit.

A US study found 89% of consumers find online channels trustworthy sources for product and service reviews, while 87% said a favourable review confirmed their decision to purchase a product, CHOICE said.

Trust in blogs can be misguided, the watchdog warns.

“Successful bloggers can have thousands of unique visitors to their site every day and develop a strong relationship with their regular readers. Thanks to that strong connection, plenty of big brands have come a calling, offering bloggers freebies or remuneration in return for a positive write-up or review.”

While bloggers in the US are legally required to disclose any commercial arrangements, those in Australia are not, CHOICE adds.

Third party verification has begun to crop up in the face of questions asked about the authenticity of user-generated reviews, CHOICE reports. UK based Feefo is changing the game in the UK through its partnership with Expedia Europe. Feefo Head of Marketing Paul Cranston told CHOICE it’s a matter of ensuring the customer is actually a reviewer with a transaction identification reference or evidence there has been a commercial relationship.

When CHOICE contacted Expedia Australia to find out whether it would be adopting a verification process to ensure trustworthiness, it says it was grilled by a third-party PR agency on behalf of Expedia, and didn’t get any answers to its questions.

CHOICE stated:

CHOICE also contacted Hotels.com, Travelocity and Orbitz to ask whether they had any processes in place to verify the authenticity of reviews. Despite repeated follow up attempts only Hotels.com got back to us with public relations rep Taylor Cole saying ‘Once the stay is completed, we send the guest a link so they can write a review. No incentive is offered for this information.’

In February 2012 UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) forced Trip Advisor to drop claims such as ‘reviews you can trust’ and ‘trusted advice from real travellers’ from its website. Unfortunately for Aussie travellers the regulatory action only applied to Trip Advisor’s UK site.

Since the 2012 ruling Trip Advisor has repeatedly defended the reliability of its site. “Trip Advisor has used sophisticated filters and behavioural modelling. Our large and passionate community of 260 million monthly visitors let us know if they see something amiss” says Trip Advisor spokesperson Jean Ow-Yeong.

However in July this year the company was flagrantly caught out when a UK restaurant that had received rave reviews and increasingly high rankings over a couple of months turned out not to exist.

Written by : Peter Needham

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Good one Peter.
    I recognise that there are legitimate professional bloggers, but there are also those who set up and buy 20,000 Facebook likes and then ask for payment to run articles.
    Hard copy publishers have to answer to things like the CAB, but these imposters can carry on regardless. Let us hope that the bubble will burst!

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