Almost 1m Tripadvisor reviews in 2020 found to be fraudulent

·3-min read
File: Those who spent hours searching extensively for their perfect dream holiday last year may have come across some of the 943,205 fake reviews that were flooded on Tripadvisor  (AFP via Getty Images)
File: Those who spent hours searching extensively for their perfect dream holiday last year may have come across some of the 943,205 fake reviews that were flooded on Tripadvisor (AFP via Getty Images)

Almost a million fake reviews flooded travel website Tripadvisor in 2020, equivalent to 3.6 per cent of the website’s total reviews in the same year.

Those who spent hours searching extensively for their perfect dream holiday last year could have come across some of the 943,205 reviews determined to be fraudulent by the website, according to its second transparency report published on Wednesday.

At least 32.9 per cent of these fake reviews were removed after they were posted on the platform, said the report.

But that’s just a fraction of the total number of reviews rejected or removed by the website. In the same year, more than two million reviews, or 8.6 per cent of all submissions that year, were either rejected or removed from the platform for reasons ranging from violation of community standards to fake reviews.

The company said it used sophisticated review fraud detection technology, coupled with an expert investigative team, to spot the fraudulent reviews.

The fake reviews originated from across the world.

The company found several of these fake reviews to be paid reviews, where businesses use the services of individuals or other companies to boost their own rankings with positive reviews.

Paid reviews were removed from 131 different countries in 2020 and activities from over 120 different paid review companies were blocked from around the world in recent years, the report said.

India topped the list of the 10 countries from where paid reviews were detected the most. Germany, Brazil and the US took the second, third and fourth spots respectively.

The report pointed out that this did not mean paid review submissions were used to boost businesses in the home countries themselves, but to typically sell reviews to businesses across the world.

“Our investigators also identified shifting trends where paid reviews originate from – with India overtaking Russia at the top of the list of countries from which paid reviews were submitted,” it said.

The company underscored the fact that 2020 was unlike any other year for the travel industry because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tripadvisor’s review volumes had unsurprisingly dropped, the report said. But average ratings increased as soon as people were able to travel and dine out again.

“While our overall review contributions dropped in line with the slowdown in travel, fraudulent submissions – which of course are not predicated on a real customer experience – did not follow the same trend,” the company pointed out.

More reviews were rejected or removed as compared to pre-pandemic figures from 2018, forcing the company to manually assess an additional 257,022 reviews.

Out of these reviews, 46,145 were removed by moderators for violating posting travel issues related to Covid-19. These reviews included racially insensitive reviews that referred to the novel coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan virus”

“We continue to ban racially insensitive content, including any reviews that refer to the Covid-19 virus as the ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘Wuhan virus’,” Tripadvisor said.

More than 26 million reviews were submitted in 2020 even as the pandemic wreaked havoc. More than 8 million reviews were posted for hotels, 12 million for restaurants and 4 million for “experiences, attractions and activities”.

The platform also penalised 34,605 properties for fraudulent activity and banned 20,299 members for failing to abide by their community standards.

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