The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reportedly launched an investigation after the site was accused of censoring reports of rape and assault. The travel recommendation company is accused of doctoring reviews of resorts where this behaviour has happened.

Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, unveiled the FTC investigation in a letter last week. It was later picked up by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and reported this week.

“The commission has a strong interest in protecting consumer confidence in the online marketplace, including the robust online market for hotel and travel,” Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairwoman of the FTC, wrote to Baldwin.

“When consumers are unable to post honest reviews about a business, it can harm other consumers whose abilities to make well-informed purchase decisions are hindered and harm businesses that work hard to earn positive reviews.”

The newspaper conducted its own investigation and found TripAdvisor deleted reports of rapes, injuries, and even deaths of travellers in Mexico. The website seems to have noticed the report and has added warnings to businesses where such reports have been published. The company says these badges warn people that the location may be an issue and will remain for three months.

TripAdvisor also says it is now aware of an FTC investigation:

“As a user-generated content platform that receives hundreds pieces of content per minute every day, we believe our guidelines work well, but we also know we don’t always get it right,” the company said in a statement. “As we always do, we continue to review our guidelines and will continue to update them to better serve our users and businesses we support.”

Integrity

I am well-traveled, been to enough countries and am an expatriate. I know the world can be a bad place, only putting on the news for five minutes will tell you that. However, it can also be beautiful and life changing, an exploration of cultures, landscapes, and history.

At their best, sites like TripAdvisor should serve as a barometer. People’s experiences can help others decide for themselves where is good, where is bad, what to do, and what not to do. It is far from fool proof, but it can be hugely helpful.

When the site is fudging the facts then it is providing a false service at best and putting people in danger at worst.

There has long been a suspicion that it is too easy to fix TripAdvisor to get positive reviews. But if the company itself is actually in on the act, how can people rely on it as a source of information? Equally, it is potentially easy to ruin a company’s reputation with a false base report.