The owner of a fraudulent reviews business has been
sentenced to prison and fined in what TripAdvisor considers a milestone for the
The Criminal Court of Lecce ruled -- in a case among the
first of its kind -- that writing fraudulent reviews under a fake identity is
punishable under Italian criminal law.
As such, the owner of PromoSalento, which sold fake reviews
to Italian hospitality companies, was ordered to spend nine months in prison
and pay 8,000 euros in damages.
Supporting the prosecution of PromoSalento as a civil
claimant, TripAdvisor shared evidence from its in-house fraud operation and
supplied resources from its Italian legal counsel.
"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," says Brad Young, TripAdvisor's vice
president, associate general counsel.
"We invest a lot in fraud prevention and we're
successful at tackling it -- since 2015, we've put a stop to the activity of
more than 60 different paid review companies worldwide. However, we can only do
so much alone, which is why we're eager to collaborate with regulators and law
enforcement authorities to support their prosecutions."
In a release, TripAdvisor cites the U.K. Competition and
Markets Authority and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission as enforcement groups
with which it welcomes the opportunity to work to combat fake reviews.
The company uses both tracking technology as well as an
investigative team to thwart paid review companies and keep them off its site.