Property giant Meriton has been ordered to pay $3 million for manipulating TripAdvisor reviews about its serviced apartments, in breach of consumer law.
Meriton was found by the Federal Court to have withheld from the travel website the emails of guests who had complained or had a negative experience between November 2014 and October 2015.
In other cases, the property manager added the letters “MSA” to email addresses, ensuring they were invalid and guests were not prompted by TripAdvisor to leave a review.
Justice Mark Moshinsky on Tuesday ordered Meriton to pay $3 million for breaching consumer law, after finding it engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct late last year.
“This conduct created a more positive or favourable impression of the quality and amenity of Meriton’s serviced apartments, and had the effect of reducing, in the minds of consumers, awareness of the prevalence of service disruptions at Meriton’s properties,” the court order read.
Meriton was also banned for three years from selecting, filtering or limiting guest email addresses supplied to TripAdvisor without the person’s consent.
It will also have to set up a program to train employees about their responsibilities under consumer law.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took Meriton to court over the issue and said potential customers deserved to see the full picture when deciding where to book.
“Meriton’s management directed staff to engage in ‘masking’ to stop potentially negative reviews from appearing on TripAdvisor,” Commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement.
“This gave the impression Meriton accommodation was of a higher standard than otherwise may have been the case.”