Italian Regulators Fine TripAdvisor For Not Sniffing Out Every Single Fake Review On The Site

from the thank-goodness-for-section-230 dept

We've talked quite a bit about the importance of Section 230 of the CDA in the US, and how it protects internet sites from the actions of their users. Some have tried to downplay the importance of Section 230, arguing that it goes too far in protecting bad behavior, or even arguing that it has little impact on innovation. Yet, take a look at the situation in Italy, where regulators are now fining TripAdvisor because some people put up fake reviews on the site:
The American company, which allows travelers to rate hotels and restaurants around the world, has been fined 500,000 euros, or about $610,000, by an Italian regulator for not doing enough to prevent false reviews on its site.

The fine represents one of the first times that a review site has faced financial penalties in Europe or the United States for failing to clamp down on potentially false reviews.

The regulator, the Italian Competition Authority, called on TripAdvisor to stop “publishing misleading information about the sources of its reviews,” and gave the company 90 days to comply with the ruling.
Except, of course, it's not TripAdvisor "publishing" the "misleading information." It's TripAdvisor's users. This is the key point that we've made about Section 230: that it forces people to recognize the difference between a site and its users. In the past, we've even noted that we shouldn't even need a Section 230 because it should be common sense that you don't blame a site for the actions of its users -- but seeing how frequently people do that, the importance of Section 230 is quickly obvious.

TripAdvisor says it's going to appeal the decision -- as it should. Otherwise, it makes you wonder if TripAdvisor should bother doing business in Italy at all. And that would be a real shame. Just last year I visited Italy, and TripAdvisor was tremendously helpful in picking the hotel where I stayed (which turned out to be wonderful). Blaming and fining the site because some people misuse it seems like setting a really dangerous precedent.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Dec 2014 @ 1:59pm

    What happens when a foreign judgment such as this one is in conflict with US law such as the CDA? Could TripAdvisor prevent enforcement of the judgment in the US per Section 230 of the CDA, or would US courts still recognize it?

    The Internet needs clear jurisdiction for all international disputes: A US company conducting business through a US website should be considered as doing business in the United States rather than the country of its customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Dec 2014 @ 2:01pm

      Re:

      ... for the same reason that states cannot force out-of-state companies to collect sales taxes, or that Congress recently enacted a law forbidding libel tourism.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Dec 2014 @ 8:05pm

      Re:

      The Italian judgment is barred from enforcement in the United States as a matter of law. The SPEECH Act, codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 4101-4105 bars all United States courts from enforcing foreign defamation judgments that do not 1) provide as much protection for freedom of speech as the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; 2) comport with the due process requirements that are imposed on domestic courts by the United States Constitution; or 3) afford the protections provided by The Communications Decency Act. If a Trip Advisor has assets within the reach of the Italian courts then the judgment may be enforceable, otherwise it's so much paper.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 24 Dec 2014 @ 2:08pm

    Batshit crazy scale...

    So, taking recent events into consideration (define it as you will), what is the proper order for the scale (and whom should be on it)?

    France
    Germany
    New Zealand
    Italy
    EU
    US
    Spain
    ??????

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 24 Dec 2014 @ 2:13pm

    The trouble with EU

    My first thought on reading this is, "What the hell happened to the EU?"

    It used to be U.S. government that was tromping all over the internet; now EU is carrying that torch.

    Then I realized (Duh!): The internet bigots have finally achieved regulatory capture in the EU.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    scotts13 (profile), 24 Dec 2014 @ 2:48pm

    Seems a disclaimer should do it; they probably already have one. Perhaps adding that "Reviews of Italian destinations not guaranteed - accommodations may be worse than described."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Felix Atagong (profile), 24 Dec 2014 @ 3:33pm

    No it isn't

    "Blaming and fining the site because some people misuse it seems like setting a really dangerous precedent."

    No it isn't. Today you posted an article where you find it imbecilic that a website killed all comments on its website because too many posters were insulting etc... Techdirt's simpler than life solution was that this website should monitor the comments before allowing them.

    This is EXACTLY the same situation. TripAdvisor should monitor the comments. Point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Dec 2014 @ 3:35pm

    come on guys! we all know the Italian courts are as thick as fuck! wasn't it them that convicted some scientists because they didn't tell the people soon enough that there was going to be an earthquake? they just needed to convict someone and in the absence of the true 'criminals', TripAdvisor filled the spot!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Dec 2014 @ 3:49pm

    I think if I were running a site like TripAdvisor, I would consider just banning all Italian IPs and follow that with these other countries with strange laws trying to rake in some money where ever they can find an excuse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 24 Dec 2014 @ 3:58pm

    Who are the posters?

    Thinking about this, one wonders who put up the 'false' reviews? Competitors (if the reviews were bad), the reviewed property (if the reviews were good) seem like good candidates (or some proxy for those). If it isn't trolls, then economics would be a really good motive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 24 Dec 2014 @ 6:30pm

    I'm starting to think this is all a plot by European Governments to get the internet to blacklist them. They hope they can make sure that the flow of information stops by suing everyone so that they block access.
    Spain pulled the news site trick we've seen tried and fail before and this time Google called their bluff by leaving rather than paying them. The businesses who needed protection now are lost online, because they've depended on Google to bring them traffic from the snippets and many are suddenly wondering why they shot themselves in the foot.

    Italy also tried scientists for murder for the earthquake predictions being off, and had a prosecutor pitching witchcraft angles in a murder trial he was running, while he was being investigated for misconduct in a previous trial.

    The governments seem to like the simple answer of blame the internet (the Internet is always Google) for all of the ills and sue to get the money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Dec 2014 @ 4:41pm

    Well, maybe...

    Let me play devil's advocate here.

    Except, of course, it's not TripAdvisor "publishing" the "misleading information." It's TripAdvisor's users.


    No, the fine is based on information TripAdvisor published ABOUT what the user published. The article says the fine is for "publishing misleading information about the sources of its reviews", not for publishing false reviews. I imagine the site says something like "our reviews are from people who took trips", but as it turns out, that is not always the case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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