The popular travel website, TripAdvisor, is reportedly being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over allegations from customers that their complaints of sexual assault and rape were being erased from the site.
What are the allegations?
In an expose published at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, several customers said that when they reported very disturbing episodes of sexual assault, including rape, at resorts listed on TripAdvisor, their comments were erased.
Since July, when the Journal Sentinel began investigating the mysterious death of a Wisconsin college student in Mexico — and found widespread problems with tainted alcohol, derelict law enforcement and price gouging from hospitals — more than a dozen travelers from across the country have said TripAdvisor muzzled their first-hand stories of blackouts, rapes and other ways they were injured while vacationing in Mexico.
“To me it’s like censoring,” said Wendy Avery-Swanson of Phoenix, whose recent review of a Mexican resort — describing how she blacked out from a small amount of alcohol served at the swim-up bar — was removed from the website.
“It wasn’t hearsay,” as TripAdvisor claimed, said Avery-Swanson, 52. “It actually happened to me.”
The Journal Sentinel investigated and reported other similar incidents that appeared to show TripAdvisor was covering up the horrible incidences from their customers.
Another case involved Kristie Love, a 35-year-old from Dallas, who said she was raped by a security guard at an all-inclusive Mexican resort owned by a company named Iberostar located in Spain. Her comments intended as a warning to others interested in vacationing at the resort were deleted numerous times from TripAdvisor because they were in violation of the company's "family friendly" rules.
According to the Journal Sentinel, the following year a 19-year-old girl was raped at the same resort while she was vacationing with her family. Then in 2015, a third woman said she was raped at the same resort.
Seven years to the day after Kirstie Love said she was raped at the resort, TripAdvisor restored her comment, but it was buried behind thousands of other comments, more than 2,600 deep, where few will see it.
What does the FTC say about the investigation?
"The Commission has a strong interest in protecting consumer confidence in the online marketplace, including the robust online market for hotel and travel," FTC Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen in a letter to Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
"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 letter concluded.
What does TripAdvisor say about the investigation?
"We are not aware of an inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission nor have they contacted us," the company said in a statement to the Business Insider. "TripAdvisor is a global user-generated content platform that enables travelers to post positive and negative reviews and forum content about their experiences."
"We receive 290 pieces of content a minute and need to ensure that information posted on our site adheres to our content guidelines to ensure the integrity of these posts," the company added. "We stand by our publishing guidelines and how they are applied."