In what Tripadvisor representatives are praising as a "landmark ruling", an online fraudster has been handed a jail sentence by an Italian court for selling fake review packages to hundreds of hospitality businesses.
TripAdvisor began its own investigation in 2015 when numerous business owners across Italy provided evidence of letters they had received from PromoSalento offering to write fake reviews for a fee, in order to boost the companies' profiles on the site.
The cops launched a criminal prosecution against the man, and TripAdvisor joined the case as a civil claimant, in order to share its evidence.
TripAdvisor said it believes some businesses paid for fake reviews and were subsequently hit with penalties that lowered their all-important popularity rankings.
TripAdvisor today hailed the decision as a "landmark ruling" and says it is keen to work with other global watchdogs such as the UK Competitions and Markets Authority to tackle the issue.
In one of the first cases of its kind, a court in Lecce in the southern region of Puglia ruled that writing fake reviews under a false identity is a criminal offence. "However, this is the first time we have seen the laws being enforced to the point of securing a criminal conviction".
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The proactive focus on fraudulent reviews was laudable, Noonan said, and companies were increasingly deploying algorithms and fraud investigators to catch perpetrators.
The company said over the course of its investigation its technical teams identified and blocked or removed more than 1000 attempts by PromoSalento to submit fake reviews on the platform for hundreds of properties.
Pascal Lamy, the chairman of the world committee on tourism ethics at the UN World Tourism Organisation, added: 'Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it's important everyone plays by the rules.
The company past year published the World Committee on Tourism Ethics guidelines, with recommendations developed in collaboration with TripAdvisor, Minube and Yelp.
It also penalized businesses that had paid PromoSalento for phony, glowing reviews.
TripAdvisor hosts more than 661 million reviews of travel destinations around the globe, according to the company.