Absurd ASA ruling upholds complaint over user reviews

Absurd ASA ruling upholds complaint over user reviews:

The UK Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint that the popular travel reviews website TripAdvisor has misled consumers by implying that reviews were accurate.  According to the ruling:

consumers would understand the claims “Reviews you can trust”, “… read reviews from real travellers”, “TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travellers” and “More than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world” to mean that they could be certain that the reviews posted on the site were from genuine travellers, and accurately reflected those travellers’ experiences of the places they visited.

We noted that reviewers were asked to agree to a declaration that their review was their genuine opinion of the hotel and that they had no personal or business affiliation with the hotel, or been offered an incentive to write a review for it. We also noted that reviewers were not asked to similarly confirm that they had no competitive interest in the place they were reviewing, or were posting a review on behalf of a competitor or other interested party, and we did not consider that agreeing to a declaration in itself would necessarily prevent non-genuine reviews from being posted on the site. Notwithstanding that, we understood that reviews could be placed on the site without any form of verification, and that whilst TripAdvisor took steps to monitor and deal with suspicious activity, it was possible that non-genuine content would appear on the site undetected.

In other words, the fact that some reviews might be misleading or false was enough to invalidate TripAdvisor’s claims.  Conspicuously absent from the ruling was any actual evidence that a review was fraudulent.  This makes a mockery of the CAP Code and effectively requires user-review websites to either verify every single review that is posted (which is clearly impossible) or refrain from making statements about user content which any reasonable consumer would understand to be qualified by commonsense.  To the extent that an adverse ASA ruling can be considered a kind of ‘liability’, this might also contravene article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive.