Travel platform accused of ripping millions of reviews from other sites
Vacation planning today often involves reading comments on travel review sites, hoping to learn from genuine and honest insights left by real guests and tourists who’ve been before us. But what if those reviews were just copied or fabricated?
A public WeChat account under the name of Xiaosheng Bibi, which writes mainly about tech, claims that over 7,400 accounts on Mafengwo -- a widely-used travel platform in China -- contain content lifted from other sites. Citing data crawled by data analysis startup Hooray Data, it claims that as many as 18 million reviews were copied from Mafengwo's Chinese rivals such as Ctrip and Meituan Dianping, with others being translated reviews from Agoda and Yelp.
In a statement posted on Weibo, Mafengwo said that the article was an “organized attack” based on distorted facts. It is suing Hooray Data for "reputational damage" in a Beijing court, according to Chinese media.
Hooray Data did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
The manager of the Xiaosheng Bibi account told us he was approached by Hooray Data, who entrusted him to expose the numbers -- and said they have another related article coming later Monday. The first article was widely circulated on social media, with one Weibo page about the topic drawing more than 19 million views.
Meanwhile, Mafengwo also said it has “cleaned up” accounts that were involved with fake reviews and pointed out that restaurant reviews -- the focus of the accusation -- make up less than 3 percent of all user-generated content on the platform, which includes travel guides and long-form diaries.
The article, first published on WeChat, has been labeled as “disputed” by WeChat, with Mafengwo’s response attached below the original article.
Mafengwo, meaning “wasp nest”, is one of the most popular travel platforms in China, boasting a mostly millennial user base who like to travel independently rather than join tours. Started in 2006, it was initially a travel guide-sharing community that made its money from ads. It began letting users book tickets and trips in 2015, taking a commission from them, but it’s still trying to maintain user-generated travel guides and tips as its niche.
Even though it claims an impressive 100 million monthly active users, it’s not among China’s top three online travel booking services. Ctrip, Qunar and Fliggy (Feizhu) are the three top sites -- accounting for over 68 percent of the market in the first quarter of 2018, according to an Analysys report.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, which also owns Fliggy.)