Friday, 6 May 2016

Can you opt out of having your home listed on TripAdvisor?

I heard from my brother that I was quoted on the front page of the Boston Globe earlier this week, in a story by Megan Woolhouse about a couple who run a restuarant in their home and are trying to get it removed fromt TripAdvisors's listings: "A five-star rating on TripAdvisor, but he wants out":

Al Ballard and his wife, Linda, own a homespun restaurant in their sprawling Victorian in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains....

For more than a year, they have tried -- and failed -- to get their restaurant removed from TripAdvisor... The Colorado restaurant scores five stars on the site. But Ballard said he feels captive to the effort it takes to monitor his reputation on TripAdvisor.

"We just don't want to be a part of it, but we can't get away from them," said Ballard, 70. "And the truth of the matter is no one can get away from them."

TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter said the company does not remove listings of any establishment open for businesses. No matter how disgruntled an owner may be over complaints about a rude staffer or tacky furnishings, it's typically there to stay.

Carter defended the company's practices, saying TripAdvisor helps countless small businesses increase their visibility.

But Edward Hasbrouck, a travel writer and industry consultant in San Francisco, said many businesses feel as if they've been forced to surrender control to such sites, which can call the shots.

"TripAdvisor has enormous power and they can do whatever they want," Hasbrouck said. "They don't have to be democratic, and they don't have to be fair."

There's more to the story, and the quote from me that made it into print was necessarily only a snippet from a long discussion I had with the Globe's reporter, Megan Woolhouse.

Tripadvisor spokesperson Carter "defended the company's practices, saying TripAdvisor helps countless small businesses increase their visibility." But that's arrogant and patronizing. You don't "help" people by doing things to them that they don't want.

There are services called "advertising agencies" that help promote restaurants and hotels. There are services called "travel writers" and "guidebook publishers" that help consumers choose hotels and restaurants. TripAdvisor is neither. Its fiduciary duty is to make money for its shareholders, not not to "help" either consumers or the businesses listed and reviewed on TripAdvisor's Web site.

According to the Globe, TripAdvisor "said it does not comment on specific profiles of companies and users due to privacy concerns." But that's a perversion of the privacy meme (albeit one often invoked by government agencies). Presumably, (1) the Ballards contacted the Globe because they wanted to get publicity for their problem with TripAdvisor, (2) the Ballards would have been willing to sign a waiver of any right they had to object to TripAdvisor talking about their complaint, and (3) no such waiver would likely have been needed, because the U.S. has no privacy law that protects people like the Ballards against most collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by companies like TripAdvisor.

That brings me to one of the things I said to Ms. Woolhouse that didn't make it into her story in the Globe: At least in this case of an in-home business where information about the business is per se personal information about the proprietors (who are also the sole staff of the "restaurant", Ms. Ballard as cook and Mr. Ballard as waiter), what TripAdvisor is doing probably wouldn't be legal in Canada or the European Union. In those countries, and many others, it would be a violation of fundamental and legally recognized privacy rights to display personal information about individuals on a public Web site without their opt-in consent. TripAdvisor doesn't even provide a way to opt out.

Does TripAdvisor have the same policies for listings of home-based travel business in Canada or the EU? If so, is it violating Canadian or European law? I suspect it is. And if TripAdvisor has different policies in Canada or Europe, why doesn't it give individual proprietors of similar home-based businesses in the USA the same rights as their Canadian or European counterparts?

At a more fundamental level, TripAdvisor is being completely hypocritical in claiming respect for the Ballards' "privacy" as its excuse for not talking to the Globe about the Ballards' complaint, while insisting on TripAdvisor's right to broadcast personal information and opinions about the Ballards to the world through TripAdvisor's Web site. If TripAdvisor really respected the Ballards' privacy, TripAdvisor wouldn't insist on having a page about the Ballards -- with their names, home address, home phone number, and whatever comments neighbors or anyone else wants to leave about them -- on TripAdvisor.com. TripAdvisor is confusing corporate secrecy and corporate reputation with personal privacy and reputation.

Relatively few people have their home addresses listed on TripAdvisor -- yet. The Ballards are unusual for the USA in serving meals to paying guests in their home in the manner of the original paladares in Cuba. But there are "sharing economy" companies (a misnomer -- it's not "sharing" if you pay for a meal cooked and served by somebody else, even in their house) trying to change that. And anyone listing their home legally on AirBnB in most municipalities has to have a business license and a commercial transient occupancy permit, both of which are public records, for their homestay hotel or B&B.

I wonder what the reaction from hosts, guests, or AirBnB itself would be if TripAdvisor, without asking for permission or offering any way to opt out, put a listing page on its site for each licensed AirBnB hostelry with the exact address, hosts' name(s), and phone number (all obtainable from public records), and photos and comments from guests, neighbors, or anyone else who wants to post opinions of them and their home.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 6 May 2016, 15:53 ( 3:53 PM) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Edward, thank you for taking my call, yesterday, I appreciate your international insights, counsel and suggestions. From a local perspective, Canon City, CO, a home rule city, the property at 813 Macon Avenue is zoned central business, thus it is not unusual for there to be multiple uses. While some areas are specific business vs personal use, ie zoning restrictions, a vast number of cities use a central business zone as incentives for businesses and owners residences, thus, we probably are not as unusual as you might think. Progressive cities are expanding central business districts as they lead to economic development like Downtown Development Authorities, creating funding projects for historical preservation and business development. We purchased the property in 2001 with the knowledge that it could be multi-purpose, resulting in being included in the historic downtown area, even being a block off main street. Trip Advisor: our goal is to get off their online listing, the maintenance is too much for a small business and the value they produce for our business is marginal. Do we anticipate success, absolutely not, however, it may save a few businesses from getting entrapped by their business to business ethics, enticement and entrapment. Best Regards, Al

Posted by: al ballard, 10 May 2016, 05:59 ( 5:59 AM)
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