Australia’s Meriton Serviced Apartments faces multi-million-dollar fines after the Australian Federal Court found it had prevented unfavourable reviews on TripAdvisor by stopping emails being sent to customers it believed would write negative reviews or who made complaints during their stay.

The Federal Court found that over the 10-month period, Meriton had inserted additional letters into some guests’ email addresses, and not sent other guest email addresses to TripAdvisor’s “Review Express” service, thereby blocking possible negative feedback. According to TripAdvisor, the Review Express service can boost reviews by more than 30%.

The consumer watchdog argued it was a deliberate practice directed by Meriton’s senior management, and that the letters “MSA” were inserted into as many as 14,000 email addresses where a customer had made a complaint during their stay. In response, Meriton told the court customers with negative experiences were marked only to improve customer service.

Meriton faces a maximum fine of $1.1 million for each breach, and the Federal Court will decide on the penalty at a later date.

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