The owner of a business that sold fake, favourable TripAdvisor reviews to hotels and restaurants in Italy has been jailed for nine months, in what the travel website hailed as a landmark ruling.
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.
The unnamed businessman, who ran a website called Promo Salento, tried to sell more than 1,000 fictional reviews to hundreds of restaurants and hotels as a way of boosting their rankings.
He charged €100 for 10 reviews, €170 for 20 and €240 for 30.
As well as the jail term, he was ordered to pay €8,000 in costs and damages, in what TripAdvisor called “a pivotal legal ruling”.
“Paid review fraud – when companies or individuals ‘sell’ fake reviews to business owners – is a violation of the law in many jurisdictions, but this is one of the first cases of enforcement resulting in a criminal conviction,” the company said in a statement.
TripAdvisor collaborated in the case by sharing research from its own investigations into fraudulent reviews.
“We see this as a landmark ruling for the internet. Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result,” said Brad Young, a vice-president of TripAdvisor.