About TripAdvisor Reviews

Learn more about how TripAdvisor moderates reviews and listings

About TripAdvisor Reviews

What Does TripAdvisor Do About Unfair Reviews?

What Does TripAdvisor Do About Unfair Reviews? Business owners and their customers often ask what we do about unfair or malicious reviews. Here we explain our approach...

When reviews are unbiased and honest, they are incredibly useful. For customers, they shine a light on businesses that offer great experiences, service and value; for owners, they help attract new customers to the business and provide valuable feedback on what it does well and where it can improve.

Unfair or malicious reviews have the opposite effect — they are misleading to potential customers and can do unwarranted damage to the reputation of a business.

Broadly speaking, there are two different scenarios in which an unfair review can occur:

  • Scenario #1: A review is submitted by someone who is either biased (you can learn more about how we determine bias here) or did not have a personal experience with the business they are reviewing.  We call these  Fake Reviews.
  • Scenario #2: A review is submitted by someone who did have a personal experience with the business (and is not biased by having a connection with the business), but what their review describes is disputed by the business.  We call these  Contested Reviews.

This distinction is an important one because it guides the way we handle review disputes. Review disputes occur when a business reports a review that they believe to be breach of our guidelines. Once a business reports a review, we then determine whether it is alleged to be a Fake Review or a Contested Review, and take action from there.

So how does TripAdvisor prevent Fake Reviews from being posted to the site?

Fake Reviews have no place on TripAdvisor. We work extremely hard to block them from being posted to the site.

First, we have a set of posting guidelines that all reviews must adhere to. These guidelines are designed to ensure reviews are as relevant and useful as possible. You can read more about our review guidelines here.

To enforce these guidelines, we use a combination of smart technology and a dedicated team of expert moderators.

The technology kicks in every time someone submits a review on TripAdvisor. Before the review is posted to the site, it has to go through hundreds of automatic checks which evaluate every aspect of that review. We call these checks our tracking system.

The system will either allow a review to be posted, block a review from being posted, or will send it to our moderation team for human analysis if it suspects the review may be fake.

Even after a review is posted, anyone can still use our reporting tools to request an investigation by our moderation team if they are concerned a review does not meet our guidelines. While the volume of requests we receive to investigate a review is low — less than 1% of reviews are ever reported to us — these reports are incredibly useful and help us enforce the guidelines consistently for all. Business owners can report reviews via the Management Center (which they can access for free), while travelers can report reviews simply by clicking on the flag icon displayed beneath each review.

To read more about the different types of fake reviews and how we catch them, go here.

To read more about how our tracking system works, go here.

How does TripAdvisor handle Contested Reviews?

While more than 99% of TripAdvisor reviews are uncontested, we know that when a review dispute does occur, it can be a serious matter for those involved. Deciding whether a Contested Review represents fair commentary about a business is a very important task, and one we try to handle as sensitively and as fairly as possible.

This is because a customer’s opinion is subjective — whether service is fast or slow, whether food is tasty or bland, whether the cost offers great value for money or is expensive — all of these things depend on a customer’s expectations.

We strongly believe that every traveler has a right to express their opinion, good or bad, based on their own expectations of what the experience should deliver.

We also know that if you are a business owner or member of staff it can be incredibly frustrating when you feel a criticism you’ve received in a review is unfair.

Any business can contest a review by using our reporting tools. Contested Reviews are then assessed by our moderation team, who determine if the review breaches our guidelines and therefore whether it should be removed or not.

If our moderation team concludes that a review meets our guidelines, it will remain posted. In these circumstances, there are still a number of steps a business can take to lessen the impact of a Contested Review, including posting a response that gives their side of the story. Indeed, we strongly believe not only in the customer’s right to express their opinion, but also in the business’ right to reply. We call this feature a Management Response.

You can learn more about the ways in which a business can respond to a Contested Review here.

To learn more about how our tracking system catches fake reviews, watch this video.

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How Does TripAdvisor Catch Fake Reviews?

How Does TripAdvisor Catch Fake Reviews? Here we explain the three different types of fake reviews and how TripAdvisor uses a combination of technology and detective work to stop fake reviews reaching the site…

Review sites have a responsibility to identify and take action against those who try to submit fake reviews. It is a responsibility we take very seriously, and so for more than a decade TripAdvisor has invested in new technology and a team of expert investigators to catch fake reviews.

A Fake Review is defined as any review submitted by someone who is either biased or did not have a personal experience with the business they are reviewing. Note that Fake Reviews are not the same as Contested Reviews (where a customer who is unconnected to the business has shared a personal experience that is disputed by that business). You can learn more about how we approach Contested Reviews here.

Fake reviews usually fall into one of three categories: Biased Positive Reviews, Biased Negative Reviews or Paid Reviews.

Biased Positive Reviews

A biased positive review is when someone connected with a business — such as an owner, employee, or even a friend or relative — attempts to post a positive review of that business. We also call this Review Boosting.

Reviews of this nature are unlikely to provide an objective account of what the customer experience is really like given the reviewer’s personal association or stake with that business.

Biased positive reviews can also occur when a business offers its customers incentives, such as a free meal or a discount, to post reviews. You can find out more about why we don’t allow review incentives here.

We catch biased positive reviews with our tracking system, which spots patterns and online markers that might indicate whether friends, family or members of staff are attempting to submit reviews about a business. On top of this, we encourage the community to let us know when they see a business offering incentives in exchange for reviews. Our team then investigates these reports and takes action against any business caught trying to collect positive reviews in this way.

Biased Negative Reviews

A biased negative review is when someone submits a deliberately malicious review about a property in an effort to unfairly lower its ranking position or improperly discredit the property in some way. We also call this Review Vandalism.

Most biased negative reviews come from one of two sources — either from someone connected to a rival establishment, or from someone who is trying to blackmail a business by threatening to submit a false negative review.

There are a number of ways we catch these types of reviews.

Similar to biased positive reviews, our tracking system can spot reviewer characteristics that might indicate whether a reviewer has a connection to a rival establishment. Even if they try to cover their tracks, their reviews won’t conform to the patterns we’d expect to find from a sample of genuine customer reviews. Our system can spot this and trigger an investigation.

On top of this, we have a tool that business owners can use to report instances where someone has threatened them with a bad review in an attempt to obtain a discount or freebie. Reporting threats immediately helps our team block the person who made the threat from posting a review. You can find out how to do so here.

Paid Reviews

This is when a business, either knowingly or unwittingly, employs the services of an individual or a company to boost its ranking position on TripAdvisor with positive reviews. We also call this Review Optimization.

We catch paid reviews using a combination of our tracking system, which identifies suspicious review activity, and a dedicated team of investigators who pursue the companies and individuals that attempt to sell them.

In fact, as a result of the team’s efforts, TripAdvisor has put a stop to the activity of over 60 different paid review companies around the world.

You can read more about the different ways we are able to catch paid review companies here.

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How Does TripAdvisor Determine Whether a Review Is Biased?

How Does TripAdvisor Determine Whether a Review Is Biased?

Even when a person has visited a hotel or restaurant, their review could still breach our guidelines if it is biased. Here we describe some of the scenarios in which a review could be considered biased...

In order for reviews to be useful and accurate, they should be based on real and impartial customer experiences. By this we mean that there should not be any ulterior motive for someone to leave a review other than to share an honest account of their own personal experience. We consider any review that is predisposed to be either positive or negative to be biased and therefore against TripAdvisor guidelines.

Here are a few scenarios which might lead to biased reviews:

Paid Reviews

Reviews that a business has attempted to purchase are biased and do not provide travelers with the impartial advice they are looking for. They are also unfair to hard-working businesses that play by the rules. Fortunately, our team of investigators is very effective at catching those who claim to offer reviews for hire, and we take firm action against businesses that try to use such services. You can learn more about how we catch reviews like this here.

Incentivized Reviews

Incentives are rewards or preferential treatment offered by a business in return for a review. Examples include offering discounts or reduced prices on a current or future experience in exchange for a review, or even promising upgrades, vouchers or any special treatment in return for reviews.

TripAdvisor encourages businesses to ask all customers to write reviews and share their feedback. However, we do not allow offering any kind of incentive for a review because this can impact the impartiality of that review. Under our incentives policy, we penalize any businesses that are found to be offering incentives to customers.

Blackmail...

How Does the TripAdvisor Review Tracking System Work?

How Does the TripAdvisor Review Tracking System Work? Here we explain how the technology behind our review tracking system works, and how we use it to catch fake reviews and prevent them from reaching the site...

When someone submits a review on TripAdvisor, it goes through a series of checks before it is posted to the site. These checks are done automatically by our review tracking system, which analyzes hundreds of pieces of information.

The tracking system is our first line of defense against fake reviews, and it means we can analyze every review prior to it being posted on the site. Such a task would be impossible if we relied only on human moderation, because the volume of review submissions from the global travel community is so high — TripAdvisor receives hundreds of contributions every minute.

What pieces of information does the tracking system check?

Because reviews are submitted online, there are hundreds of pieces of electronic information we can analyze to help us understand more about every review’s origin and circumstance. For example, we can see the location of the device that was used to submit a review, as well as some details about the specifications of that device. Even if someone is trying to hide information about their device location, which fraudsters often do, we can spot that too.

That is just one example — there are lots of other pieces of information that we look out for. They act like pieces of a puzzle that our tracking system is designed to join together, creating a complete picture of each review.

Can TripAdvisor give other examples of what the tracking system checks?

In the same way a bank cannot share too much information about the security systems it uses, unfortunately we cannot share a full list of everything our system tracks. We would love to show off all of the things our technology can do, but we also have to be cautious not to provide any information that fraudsters might try to use to get around our systems.

What is the tracking system looking for?

Our tracking system is designed to do two things — block reviews that are clearly in breach of our guidelines, such as those that include offensive language or plagiarized content, and also spot unusual patterns that might indicate a review is biased or fake.

When our tracking system identifies a review that is clearly in breach of our guidelines, it rejects that review and blocks it from being posted to the site in the first place.

When our tracking system identifies an unusual pattern of review activity, it triggers an investigation by our team of moderators. While the investigation takes place, the reviews associated with the unusual activity are blocked from being posted to the site. You can learn more about the types of reviews that might be flagged for investigation here.

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What Does TripAdvisor Do To Stop The Buying and Selling of Fake Reviews Online?

What Does TripAdvisor Do To Stop The Buying and Selling of Fake Reviews Online?

Buying reviews is a dishonest business practice that misleads customers and is deeply unfair to the majority of businesses that play by the rules. Here we explain why TripAdvisor takes a hard line against the small minority of businesses who try to buy reviews, and how we catch the companies that sell them…

The vast majority of business owners play fair on TripAdvisor. They work hard to provide a great customer experience, and they want those customers to share honest feedback in their reviews.

Unfortunately, there are some individuals and/or companies who try to exploit hospitality business owners by soliciting money in exchange for fake reviews. These companies often masquerade as legitimate businesses and they make various false promises about what their ‘services’ deliver. Their main claim is that they can boost a hospitality business’ ranking on TripAdvisor with positive reviews.

We refer to this category of fake reviews as Paid Reviews and they represent a form of fraud. It is a problem we take extremely seriously. We have a dedicated team of investigators who work 24/7 to catch paid review companies and prevent them from operating on our site. We also work with regulators and law enforcement agencies around the world to successfully prosecute some of the worst offenders. In many countries, both the buying and selling of reviews is illegal, and if caught, paid reviewers can be sentenced to time in prison.

What is the difference between a Paid Review company and a Review Optimization company?

They are two different names for the same thing. We think ‘paid review companies’ is the clearest and simplest way to refer to all businesses or individuals that sell fake reviews.

It is important to note that ‘review optimization’ is not to be confused with other optimization tools that offer a legitimate service, such as ‘search engine optimization’.

How can TripAdvisor spot a Paid Review?

TripAdvisor has been tracking millions of reviews for well over a decade which enables us to build very accurate models of the way normal travelers post reviews. Paid reviewers don’t conform to this model, even when they try to disguise their activity. Even small differences in review submission patterns can be spotted by our tracking system and trigger an investigation by our team of experts.

You can learn more about how our tracking system works here.

How does TripAdvisor catch paid review companies?

In addition to our sophisticated tracking system, our dedicated team of investigators track down and stop the companies that claim to offer paid reviews.

There are a number of ways we do this.

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Investigations Spotlight: Jail Time for Review Fraud

Investigations Spotlight: Jail Time for Review Fraud

In the second in a series of behind-the-scenes articles highlighting the vital work of our review fraud investigators, we delve into an Italian investigation that delivered some groundbreaking results...

The buying or selling of fake reviews — known as paid review fraud — is not only dishonest, but also illegal in many countries. Fortunately, because of our highly evolved detection and deterrent techniques, the amount of fraud attempted on TripAdvisor is extremely small. We take any attempts at review fraud very seriously, and with over 15 years’ experience, we are the industry leaders at catching it.

Back in 2015, our dedicated team of fraud investigators identified a new illegal business in Italy called PromoSalento that was offering to write fake reviews for hospitality businesses to boost their profile on TripAdvisor. Several Italian businesses forwarded the emails to us, which kick-started an investigation that would ultimately see the person behind PromoSalento sent to jail!

Here is how we did it:

Step #1: Identify The Perpetrator

The first step of the investigation was to confirm the identity of the person behind the emails as well as other individuals we suspected were involved with the PromoSalento business. Through research and detection work, our investigators gathered a variety of details on the people involved, including email addresses, residential addresses and personal connections.

Step #2: Gather The Evidence and Block Reviews

The next step was to establish that PromoSalento had not only advertised fake review services, but had actually attempted to submit fake reviews to our site. This is an important step because companies or individuals sometimes claim they can submit fake reviews or influence our site, only for them to disappear with the money once a business has signed up to their ‘services.’

Our investigators applied advanced digital forensics to identify and analyze links between PromoSalento and attempted submissions to our site. Over the course of our investigation, our technical analysis identified and then either blocked or removed more than 1,000 attempts by PromoSalento to submit reviews to the TripAdvisor site on hundreds of different properties.

PromoSalento attempted to avoid our scrutiny by regularly changing their usernames and email addresses, but our fraud detection processes use a suite of advanced technologies to evaluate hundreds of review attributes such as IP addresses, browser types and even the screen resolution of a reviewer’s device. Based on that analysis, we were able to see a trail of digital and behavioral ‘breadcrumbs’ that led our team straight back to PromoSalento.

Step #3: Penalize Properties

The next step was to connect this activity to the businesses paying PromoSalento to write fake reviews on their behalf. We believe those who do not play by the rules should be penalized and we have strong penalties in place for businesses that try to manipulate our system.

Our investigators gathered a detailed collection of evidence linking several hundred businesses to fake reviews submitted by PromoSalento. The team then notified these businesses and applied penalties that demoted their positions in our rankings. A ranking penalty — which reduces a business’s position within the TripAdvisor Popularity Ranking — is often the first penalty we apply in cases like this.

Red badges

For most of the businesses we caught in connection with PromoSalento, our ranking penalties were enough to stop fraud in its tracks. But where we saw suspicious activity continue, the next step was to issue a red badge, which is a notice displayed on a business’s TripAdvisor listing page warning travelers that the business has been trying to manipulate reviews. The notice outlines the type of fraud we have spotted.

We always seek to engage with businesses before a red badge is applied, and in this case, several businesses were willing to share information to support TripAdvisor’s investigations. This allowed us to gather even more evidence against PromoSalento, including confirmation of payments, bank transactions and service receipts.

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Investigations Spotlight: Tackling Foul Play and Review Fraud at the 2018 World Cup

Investigations Spotlight: Tackling Foul Play and Review Fraud at the 2018 World Cup

In the first of a series of behind-the-scenes articles highlighting the vital work of our review fraud investigators, we look at how our team prevented soccer fans from being scammed at the 2018 FIFA World Cup…

The eyes of the world were on Russia and the World Cup this summer, but while most of those watching were fixated by events on the field, our investigations team was focused on activity off it.

Major events like a World Cup attract a huge increase in visitors to the host country, and unfortunately there will always be opportunists and fraudsters who try to exploit that. For sites like TripAdvisor, this creates a heightened risk that fake reviewers will seek to boost the profile of individual businesses, to the disadvantage of the vast majority of business owners who play by the rules.

Fortunately, with over fifteen years’ experience in fraud detection, our investigations team is well versed in how to catch the culprits and prevent their reviews from ever making it onto the site. Ahead of the World Cup, there were a number of preemptive steps we took to protect travelling fans.

Step #1: Knowing Where To Look

The first thing we did was to examine review trends across the eleven cities that were hosting World Cup matches: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg.

To do this, our investigators used visualization tools and digital forensics analysis to identify patterns in the data gathered by our review tracking system. This analysis looked at two specific aspects of review activity: behavioral data and technical data.

Step #2: The Clues Fraudsters Leave Behind

Behavioral data tells us how individual reviewers interact with the site, including the frequency with which they submit reviews, the geographical spread of those reviews, any similarities between reviewer accounts, and many other data points.

In this case, we were looking for any patterns of behavior that seemed outside of the norm. For example, if an individual reviewer had posted a quick burst of reviews, or if two accounts had started engaging with the site in an extremely similar fashion.

Technical data looks at the devices that reviewers use to submit reviews, which can reveal a lot about what a fraudster is up to, including their location. Ahead of the tournament, we were looking for any indicators of multiple reviewer accounts submitting content from the same device — often a tell-tale sign of a paid review company at work.

Step #3: Removing Suspicious Reviews

Our data analysis identified more than 1,300 different reviewer accounts that were attempting to submit reviews in a suspicious manner.

This prompted a closer look by our team and resulted in the removal of over 1,500 suspicious reviews from properties across the eleven host cities — a tiny proportion of the millions of reviews we receive overall each month, but enough to be potentially misleading to travelers and unfair to all the other hospitality businesses that play by the rules.

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Journey of a Review

Journey of a Review From submission to posting, how TripAdvisor moderates traveler reviews

Ever wondered what steps TripAdvisor takes to moderate reviews? Watch the short video above to learn more about:

  • The technology TripAdvisor uses to track and evaluate reviews,
  • What happens when we spot a suspicious review,
  • The three main types of fake or biased reviews and how we catch them,
  • The role of our investigations team, and 
  • What businesses can do to request an investigation

For more information about our reviews guidelines, click here.

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