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The Boston Globe

Business

TripAdvisor, Amex in deal on reviews

TripAdvisor announced a new partnership on Tuesday that is expected to add more credibility to some of its 100 million online reviews of hotels, restaurants, and stores.

American Express members can now link their cards to their TripAdvisor profile, and any review of a service they buy with their card will be designated as an “Amex Card Member Review.” This will give users of the Newton-based travel site another way to verify that the descriptions they are reading are real.

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The authenticity of online reviews has come under scrutiny lately, as more consumers turn to the Internet to get ratings and reviews of hotels, restaurants, and stores — and the number of suspected fake reviews climbs. As many as a third of online reviews are estimated to be generated by business owners trying to boost their ratings, or lower those of their competitors.

Review sites are continually tightening their fraud detection efforts, and, like others, TripAdvisor uses automated software and a team of investigators to screen for suspicious content.

The TripAdvisor, American Express deal is the first such partnership of its kind, according to both companies, and could catch on with other online review sites and credit card issuers.

“Doing more to authenticate online reviewers is critical to online marketplaces,” said Michael Luca, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied online review fraud. “Being able to verify even a small fraction of their reviews would build an extreme amount of trust in the content.”

About 1 in 4 people believe that customer ratings are biased or fake, according to a recent survey.

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American Express has 90 million cardholders around the world, and they travel three times as much as the population as a whole, said Leslie Berland, senior vice president of digital partnerships and development for American Express. The program is launching in the United States, Australia, and United Kingdom, and will eventually spread to other countries.

“We feel that there is a true power in content and reviews that are coming from our card members,” Berland said. “This adds a new dimension.”

American Express cardholders will be rewarded for connecting their card to their TripAdvisor profile. After writing their first review, they will get a $5 credit on their account. They will also be eligible for special deals from TripAdvisor merchants and will have access to lists of spots popular with American Express card holders, based on spending.

The goal of the program is not to authenticate reviews, said Severine Philardeau, vice president of partnerships for TripAdvisor, but rather to add value to the site’s content by highlighting opinions from a seasoned group of travelers.

“TripAdvisor has so much content, I think that being able to supplement the wisdom of the crowd with more personalized and relevant insights is important,” Philardeau said,

The American Express partnership is similar to TripAdvisor’s agreement with Facebook, which allows people who log in through the social networking site to see their friends’ reviews. TripAdvisor also helps hotels and other properties solicit feedback from previous customers, giving businesses a way to get more reviews. TripAdvisor includes a note on reviews that have been solicited from customers, adding another layer of proof that reviewers stayed at the hotel or ate at the restaurant about which they wrote.

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

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