An appeals court in Italy wiped out a euro 500,000 ($550,000) fine against TripAdvisor for allegedly hoodwinking travelers into believing that all its user reviews are true.

“TripAdvisor never asserted that all the opinions were real, even mentioning that verification was impossible and to consider the trend rather than each comment one by one,” said the administrative court ruling, according to The Economic Times.

After complaints leveled by the National Consumer Union, the Italian hotel association Federalberghi and some consumers, the Italian Competition Authority authority ruled in December that TripAdvisor was brazen in asserting that user reviews on TripAdvisor.it were authentic and that its monitoring tools to detect fake reviews were inadequate.

But the appeals court reversed the ruling and erased the fine.

“We are extremely satisfied that TAR (Tribunale Amministrativo Regionale) has overturned the ICA ruling and confirmed what we always knew — that TripAdvisor is a hugely valuable and reliable resource, that there is no misleading message regarding the source of TripAdvisor’s reviews, and the processes TripAdvisor uses to maintain the integrity of our content are extremely effective,” TripAdvisor stated.

“We appealed the ICA’s original ruling as we believed that it was unreasonable and we strongly disagreed with its findings. The TAR has confirmed that the ICA’s ruling was completely unwarranted and by extension has acknowledged the industry-leading tools TripAdvisor has to protect our site from fraud.”

No one — not even TripAdvisor — argues that all its user reviews are legitimate but the service still provides invaluable information for travelers scoping out hotels. Many global chains understand this, although the Italian hospitality association and regulators haven’t received the memo.

TripAdvisor has roughly 225 million reviews and opinions on its sites and users contribute new ones them at a 139-per-minute pace, which is a 39 percent jump over last year.

Despite fraud-detection teams and technologies, there are undoubtedly lots of fake reviews on TripAdvisor and some hotels game the system. But as TripAdvisor points out, when you look at a property that has hundreds, even thousands of guest reviews, it’s tough to argue with the overall patterns.

The Italian appeals court agreed.

The following is the court ruling (in Italian):

Download (PDF, 764KB)

Photo Credit: A page on TripAdvisor.it. TripAdvisor