How I beat Tripadvisor

For the past 10 years now, Tripadvisor has been the bane of the Hospitality industry. So much so, over the weekend a hashtag started to appear in my timeline, #NoReceiptNoReview. In essence the idea is that to post a review, you must be able to prove that you’ve stayed or eaten at said establishment. It would go some way to stamping out the fraud, which the media think is so prevalent on Tripadvisor.

Tripadvisor isn’t a small company, over the past decade its turnover has risen to $363 million, with profits of $63million. So its not like they’d be looking under the cushions on the sofa, trying to scrape together loose change for a new verification system.

Whilst most of the negative press is about Tripadvisor is about bogus reviews, what about restaurants who try to promote themselves in a better light?

Any visitor that arrives at via a search engine, will show up on my analytics, so here is a partial screengrab as an example:

CHx search engine ref

Part of dashboard

But what many people don’t realise, is that you can now actually search for a specific image. As you can see from the search engine terms above, foie gras terrine appears. This means that somebody has been looking for an image or a recipe, and this was Tripadvisor’s downfall.

image search

Image search for my foie gras terrine

The original image is this one, and appears on a Honey recipe post:

Honey recipe

Ham hock & foie gras terrine

What the Google search exposed, was a restaurant had uploaded the image from my site to Tripadvisor, and were claiming it to be an example of the food they served.


Highlighted URL: Where the stolen image was on the Tripadvisor website

Had Tripadvisor actually vetted Restaurant Rastignac in France, they’d have soon flagged up the images as being false. This is a restaurant which appears to use squirty aerosol cream on its desserts, so the chance that they’d actually use a dish like the one above is highly unlikely.

I contacted the customer service department, who refused to transfer me to somebody who remove the offending image. Instead you have to jump through the hoops of verification, clicking links etc or do you? No, is the answer.

If a website is hosted in America, then there is a tool you can use, which could lead to a website actually being taken offline. It is called a DMCA Take Down notice. Combined with information from any ‘WhoIs‘ website, you can issue the notice.

Now let’s be clear from the outset, in terms of copyright theft there is a grey area of ‘fair use’, where an image can be used in certain context. Taking an image from Google an using it for your own ends isn’t that context, it’s theft.

Even taking my fight with Tripadvisor to social media, where I received lots of support for the potential to actually shut the site down. They still didn’t want to engage. Time to crank up the pressure.


Email to Tripadvisor’s support, UK PR department & the domain registrar

The problem with companies like Tripadvisor, eBay & Amazon, is that it is actually quite hard to email or speak to the right person. That is unless you know where to look. Even Tripadvisor’s own support couldn’t supply the email address to their legal department, don’t worry they know it now!!

After a lengthy exchange on email & Tripadvisor not really getting the gravity of the situation, and claiming that it could take upto 24hours to remove an image.


Another email to Tripadvisor support after they had wrongly claimed to have removed the offending image.

Ironically, if you right click an image on Tripadvisor, you are told to attribute the use of it to the travel site, implying that they are the copyright holders; they are not. So if somebody decides to copy my already stolen image, by definition this makes Tripadvisor an accomplice to copyright theft & is literally no different to Pirate Bay etc.

With the 5pm (UK time) deadline approaching, and Tripadvisor’s CEO (Stephen Kaufer) & legal department now cc’d in on the email exchange, they started to grasp that I wasn’t going to be brushed as side easily.

By 5.30pm (UK time) after five emails & a steady pressure on social media, the images were removed from the Tripadvisor site, yet remained on their servers. What this experience should have taught Tripadvisor is that their systems don’t work. The public need to realise that Tripadvisor don’t vet what restaurants actually post, leaving them exposed to potential copyright infringements like this.

Even if Tripadvisor re-invested a third of its $63million profits into systems to stop fraud, both bogus reviews & operators, then potentially their credibility would increase. There is no doubting that something like #NoReceiptNoReview adds a value to beat bogus reviews, but it still has vulnerabilities.

Plenty of people have taken images from, if they do without asking & I discover this, then I will pursue said website for copyright violation. If you want to use images from this site, just ask. Get intouch, ask if you can use an image & I generally say yes (on the proviso of credit & link back) – I may even send you the original hi res version.

For Tripadvisor & Stephen Kaufer, I suggest you get your house in order. Your systems have been found wanting, & not for the first time. Just thank your lucky stars Tripadvisor that this didn’t go viral & ended up on the evening’s news.


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