Meriton fined $3 million for manipulating TripAdvisor reviews

Meriton fined $3 million for manipulating TripAdvisor reviews
Meriton fined $3 million for manipulating TripAdvisor reviews

Meriton has been fined $3 million for manipulating the online reviews on the travel review website TripAdvisor over its serviced apartment experience.

The Federal Court found Meriton breached the Australian Consumer Law by not forwarding the guests' email addresses to TripAdvisor when there were service disruptions such as broken lifts and hot water outrages at their apartments.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission sought a $20 million fine, saying Meriton had committed "1000s" of masking breaches.

Meriton suggested a fine between $330,000 and $440,000 was more appropriate.

The court also restrained Meriton from filtering, selecting or limiting the guest email addresses it supplies to TripAdvisor for the next three years.

Meriton will also have to set up a compliance and training program.

Justice Mark Moshinsky said the breaches took place over a period of 11 months on the world's largest travel website.

"Meriton's conduct had the effect of reducing, in the minds of consumers, awareness of the prevalence of service disruptions at the Meriton properties.

Further, Meriton's conduct created an unduly favourable impression about the quality or amenity of Meriton's serviced apartment," he said.

The fine came as Meriton's senior management were aware of and sanctioned the practices, he said.

"Because so many consumers use the internet and online sites to gather information about products and services, it is imperative that corporations engaging with the internet and online sites comply with the Australian Consumer Law," he said.

Meriton deceived consumers by preventing guests from receiving TripAdvisor's email prompting them to leave reviews if the apartment management suspected the guests would give an unfavourable review.

Meriton did this by inserting the letters "MSA" - which stands for Meriton Serviced Apartments - to guests' email addresses provided to TripAdvisor, if the guests made a complaint, which made the email addresses invalid.

In total Meriton added "MSA" to over 14,000 email addresses in 2015 across 13 of its services apartment properties.

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