Emails trip up Meri­ton

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - NEWS - JOHN ROLFE

MERI­TON could be fined mil­lions of dol­lars af­ter the Fed­eral Court ruled it en­gaged in mis­lead­ing or de­cep­tive con­duct by stop­ping neg­a­tive re­views of its ser­viced apart­ments from ap­pear­ing on TripAd­vi­sor.

In a rul­ing handed down yes­ter­day, Jus­tice Mark Moshin­sky said that Meri­ton “de­lib­er­ately and sys­tem­at­i­cally” pro­vided TripAd­vi­sor with in­cor­rect email ad­dresses for un­happy guests, or did not send them at all.

Meri­ton, which is owned by prop­erty mogul Harry Triguboff, could face fines of up to $1.1 mil­lion per breach of con­sumer law. A date is yet to be set for a penalty hear­ing, which will also de­ter­mine the num­ber of breaches.

TripAd­vi­sor can con­tact cus­tomers for re­views us­ing email ad­dresses sup­plied by businesses. But Jus­tice Moshin­sky said Meri­ton reg­u­larly added the let­ters “MSA” to the ad­dress of guests who com­plained or were thought likely to com­plain, en­sur­ing the emails never ar­rived.

“This prac­tice was stan­dard across the or­gan­i­sa­tion and, from Jan­uary 2015, was re­flected in Meri­ton’s stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure for check­ing out a guest,” Jus­tice Moshin­sky said.

The Aus­tralian Con­sumer and Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion brought the case.

ACCC com­mis­sioner Sarah Court yes­ter­day said that many con­sumers base their de­ci­sions on in­for­ma­tion on in­flu­en­tial re­view sites such as TripAd­vi­sor.

Meri­ton’s gen­eral coun­sel Joseph Cal­laghan said the de­ci­sion was “dis­ap­point­ing”.

This com­pany was re­view­ing the judg­ment and con­sid­er­ing its op­tions.

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