Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I Don't Need the Globe's Advice

I'm not going anywhere.

"A five-star rating on TripAdvisor, but he wants out" by Megan Woolhouse Globe Staff  May 04, 2016

The Wild West nature of online review sites like TripAdvisor has led to a backlash from businesses in Massachusetts and across the country that have quietly filed complaints against the company and other sites with the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general.

Some business owners, like the Ballards, want to be removed from the site. Some just don’t like what they’ve read about their business, or find it unfair.

TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter said the company does not remove listings of any establishment open for businesses. No matter how disgruntled an owner may be over complaints about a rude staffer or tacky furnishings, it’s typically there to stay.

That unfiltered approach has helped the company grow from a small cadre of online reviewers when it started in 2000 into an industry behemoth that offers more than 320 million reviews of businesses around the globe.

Carter defended the company’s practices, saying TripAdvisor helps countless small businesses increase their visibility.

“We built this community by giving customers a platform to share their honest opinions, whether good or bad,” Carter said. “We strongly believe in their right to do so.”

But Edward Hasbrouck, a travel writer and industry consultant in San Francisco, said many businesses feel as if they’ve been forced to surrender control to such sites, which can call the shots.

“TripAdvisor has enormous power and they can do whatever they want,” Hasbrouck said. “They don’t have to be democratic, and they don’t have to be fair.”

The Better Business Bureau of Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont received nearly 20 complaints about TripAdvisor from unhappy business owners in the last three years.

TripAdvisor gets a B- rating from the New England area bureau. That’s up from C- in April. The company also received 21 negative reviews, including one from an unnamed business owner who said a malicious review claimed he promoted the KKK and damaged his business.

On another consumer review site, Lake Tahoe-based Consumer Affairs, reviewers gave TripAdvisor one star out of five. That ranking is based on a combination of reviews by consumers and business owners, including a longtime restaurant owner who said a competitor sabotaged him in reviews in order to steal his customers.

Tara Hinckley, owner of the Maynard shop Charmed, which sells incense, candles, and witchcraft supplies, complained to the Better Business Bureau after she said she tried 10 times to get TripAdvisor’s customer service to update her businesses location. At one point, TripAdvisor mistakenly changed her account to say that her business had permanently closed, she said, making her want to abandon the site despite her five-star rating.

“It’s almost like they hijack your information,” Hinckley said.

TripAdvisor eventually corrected her listing, but she said she still feels as though TripAdvisor wields too much control over the perception of her business.

The company said it does not comment on specific profiles of companies and users due to privacy concerns.

TripAdvisor is not the only company facing such criticism. Among the most public, Yelp, Inc., the San Francisco-based review giant, was the subject of lawsuits in 2010 by businesses who said its reviews were manipulated to pressure businesses into buying advertising on Yelp’s site. The cases were ultimately dismissed by a judge who said the claims were not proved.

The BBB of San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California, which has logged more than 1,600 complaints against Yelp, said many are from business owners alleging that there are false or inaccurate reviews on their Yelp listing and that Yelp will not remove them, even when proved untrue or inaccurate.

Yelp said in its response, also posted on the BBB site, that “consumer speech is protected under the law” and that businesses that take legal action and lose may be required to pay Yelp’s legal fees....