A TripAdvisor reviewer has been sentenced to nine months in prison in a landmark fraud ruling by an Italian court.
TripAdvisor was first made aware of the owner's business, PromoSalento, in 2015 after several hospitality businesses forwarded his e-mails soliciting his services to the travel website.
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. He was also ordered to pay €8,000 (£7,100). TripAdvisor said it believes some businesses paid for fake reviews and were subsequently hit with penalties that lowered their all-important popularity rankings.
"The police investigation into Promo Salento delivered enough evidence of criminal conduct to send the case to court", the USA company said in a statement.
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"We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet", TripAdvisor said.
What's the significance? Although paid review fraud has been considered illegal in many countries for some time, this is one of the first instances in it resulting in an actual criminal conviction.
TripAdvisor staff then identified and blocked more than 1,000 attempts by Promo Salento to post reviews. TripAdvisor tracked the company down and issued a warning, but it didn't halt its practices; ultimately, the Italian Postal and Communications Police started its own probe and TripAdvisor joined the prosecution as a civil claimant, sharing the evidence it had gathered.
The company said since 2015 it had thwarted 60 different paid review companies across the world.
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TripAdvisor employs a dedicated team of investigators, who use advanced tracking technology to catch paid review companies and prevent them from operating on the site.
And the online review site says it is working with the UK's Competition and Markets Authority as well as the US Federal Trade Commission to share information and support its efforts to tackle online fake reviews.
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