Home Technology Regulation Federal Court finds Meriton misled, deceived consumers on TripAdvisor

Federal Court finds Meriton misled, deceived consumers on TripAdvisor

National accommodation services company Meriton Property Services, has been found by the Federal Court to have engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct online over its posting of reviews of its properties on the TripAdvisor website.

The Court found that from November 2014 to October 2015, Meriton engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by taking steps to prevent guests it suspected would give an unfavourable review from receiving TripAdvisor’s "Review Express" prompt email.

Meriton did this by:

  • Inserting additional letters into guests’ email addresses provided to TripAdvisor so that the prompt email never reached the guest; or
  • Not sending guest email addresses to TripAdvisor.

“The Court found that Meriton, at the direction of management, deliberately implemented a strategy to minimise the number of negative reviews its guests posted on TripAdvisor,” ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.

“In reducing the chances of a customer posting a negative review, Meriton created a created a more positive or favourable impression of the quality or amenity of the Meriton properties on the TripAdvisor website.”

Court said that many consumers base their purchasing decisions on reviews they get through sites like TripAdvisor.

“It’s therefore vital the reviews on these review sites are not manipulated and accurately reflect all customers’ opinions – the good and the bad,” she said.

The Court found that on several occasions Meriton engaged in this conduct in respect of the majority of guests staying at one of its hotels during periods when there were infrastructure or service problems, such as no hot water or a lift not working.

The Court also held that Meriton’s conduct was liable to mislead the public as to the “nature, characteristics and suitability of purpose of its accommodation services”.

“This decision sends a strong message that businesses must not undermine the integrity of third party review processes in order to mislead or deceive consumers, as this conduct risks breaching the Australian Consumer Law,” Court said.

The Court will conduct a hearing on relief against Meriton at a later date.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).