Fake reviews have been an issue for reputations and businesses ever since online reviews became a key decision-making factor- if not the most important- for those shopping online. Oftentimes, fake reviews on websites like Amazon and Yelp are noted to be one of the most damaging threats to online businesses. However this time around, Airbnb is dealing with hundreds of fake reviews and listings that have been misleading guests in Canada.
According to CBC, Airbnb shut down a Montreal-based host with the username “AJ” after an investigation revealed that AJ and other accounts were listing the same properties under different names while boosting each other’s ratings and writing fake reviews that portrayed the accommodations to be much nicer than their reality.
AJ was one of Airbnb’s biggest hosts in Canada because of the way “he” was able to manipulate and mislead Airbnb and its users. Now, users are concerned about the platform’s ability to protect guests and identify sketchy listings, especially because of the way this situation was handled.
CBC uncovered that two months before Airbnb shut down “AJ” and his accounts, he was suspended while Airbnb conducted an investigation. However those who had already booked with AJ were never once notified by Airbnb of the suspension or given the option to cancel. Instead, guests found the place they booked that was described in a review as a “Charming Old Montreal Loft” to appear more like a dirty shack.
“The floors were disgustingly dirty. There were broken mugs.… The beds were chewed by the mice,” said Stacey Lapierre, one of the guests of AJ’s listing in a quote published by CBC.
So, how was AJ able to get away with this for so long that he was able to achieve “Superhost” status, a title reserved for hosts with exceptional hospitality? According to CBC, his listings received rave reviews from the same three Airbnb accounts.
One of the accounts wrote, “I booked the place for my employees and they were all very satisfied as usual. Will be booking again. A+ host!”
According to CBC, that review was posted 26 times in the month of May alone by the same user. Then, AJ started receiving reviews that were more negative and outlined the rough conditions of his listings.
While Airbnb conducted their investigation on AJ, two new hosts by the name of Barry and Alvin took on AJ’s listings without having to bring the negative reviews with them. However, the conditions of the listings remained the same and guests outlined the same experience as others did at AJ’s.
Then, as Airbnb continued to catch on to the pattern, 9 accounts were removed in relation to the misleading listings, with a message citing that they “misrepresented yourself or your spaces”. According to CBC, Airbnb said they were issuing refunds to those who had upcoming reservations with the sketchy hosts. However, the previous guests who were surprised to find their reservations were nothing like they were listed as were never offered refunds or opportunities to cancel, according to CBC.
Many, including the Mayor of Montreal, were disappointed in Airbnb’s lack of communication regarding these misleading accounts and worry how they will attempt to monitor accounts like these in the future.
It appears that in order to earn back trust from their customers, Airbnb will need to find more efficient ways to monitor the conditions of each of their listings as it is clearly easy to use fake photos. It might also be helpful to protect guests while conducting investigations on hosts by offering them the option to cancel.
From a legal standpoint, if Airbnb has knowledge of the misrepresentation facts presented in fake reviews, and knows that customers are relying on them in order to book Airbnb, a cheated customer may have a case against Airbnb for intentional or negligent misrepresentation. Of course, that’s assuming that Airbnb’s written terms of service do not successfully disclaim such representations. Either way, it’s certainly bad press for Airbnb, and customers losing confidence in its review system can be devastating to business and its professional reputation.
As a customer of Airbnb, look out for red flags within listings before you book your next trip. These can include obvious stock photos used for host profile pictures, vague yet similar reviews from different accounts, as well as copy and paste reviews from the same person. For good measure, take screenshots of the photos from the listing and reverse image search them on google to make sure they’re not taken from somewhere else.
For more information on how to deal with fake reviews click here. If you seek help from an experienced e-commerce attorney, contact RM Warner Law today.