Re-Viewing Reputation : Italy Investigates Trip Advisor

We rely on reputation more and more to help us make decisions about trust and relationships in online spaces.  It is not surprising then that the very system(s) from which reputation is derived need to be re-viewed and assessed in order to ensure that reputation is and remains reliable and trustworthy. 

 An iteration of this concern is beginning in Italy, whose anti-trust body just announced an investigation into Trip Advisor.  The site attaches aggregate ratings to hotels, restaurants and other services based on individual reviews and rankings (also viewable by users) submitted by users of those services.  The investigation is a response to allegations (by consumers and by some service) that information is not clearly and evidently the result of using the services – that some reviews are from users who may never have visited or used the service in question; and that some information is in fact commercial placement that is not easily distinguished from user-provided reviews.    

Interestingly, the investigation looks not just into the validity/veracity of the information but also into whether Trip Advisor sufficiently guards against gaming of their system.   It will be interesting to see how broadly the authority defines Trip Advisor’s responsibilities.  What if anything must a site do to ensure the quality of the content posted on their site and included in their aggregation?  What standards should their due diligence be judged against, and what penalties applied?   Increasingly as more complex information relationships become the norm, such a question would likely fall under the rubric of innocent dissemination, where an intermediary like Trip Advisor does not necessarily have such a duty unless or until notified of a concern or problem.