The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued Federal Court proceedings against Meriton Property Services Pty Ltd, trading as “Meriton Serviced Apartments’ (Meriton), alleging that Meriton deliberately prevented particular customers from being given the opportunity to provide reviews of their services on TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor offers a service to businesses, Review Express, under which businesses are responsible for providing customer details to the website on the understanding that TripAdvisor will contact customers directly to obtain feedback on their experiences.

The ACCC has alleged that Meriton altered the email addresses of selected customers who were guests of their properties during a time of increased infrastructure and service failures so that TripAdvisor could not contact these customers for reviews.

TripAdvisor is a website people visit to read the independent feedback of patrons in order to decide whether to book the accommodation. The ACCC claims that the manipulation of reviewers’ email addresses to avoid the uploading of negative reviews will have the effect of customers making future purchasing decisions on the basis of ‘falsehood’, and that this amounts to misleading and deceptive conduct.

The ACCC is seeking a range of penalties, corrective publication orders and costs for the acts which were said to be encouraged by Senior Management.

It is increasingly common for businesses to rely on online review sites to win customers, and for customers to rely on those online reviews. As a result, in 2013 the ACCC developed, ‘Online reviews – a guide for business and review platforms.’ A copy of this guide is available via the ACCC website.

If you publish customer reviews on your website, or use other online review sites to promote your business, we can help advise you on how to balance the promotion of your brand against the legal risks associated with online reviews. Please contact us for assistance.

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