TripAdvisor has hit back at allegations that it is failing to stop a flood of fake reviews that artificially boost hotel ratings.

The travel review site has come under fire from consumer group Which? over what it calls “hugely suspicious” patterns of comments from contributors.

But James Kay, a UK director of TripAdvisor, said the site went after fake reviews “very aggressively”.

“We are doing this more than any other platform out there,” he told the BBC.

Mr Kay was speaking in response to a Which? Travel survey that looked at 250,000 TripAdvisor reviews for the top 10 ranked hotels in 10 popular tourist destinations worldwide.

Which? said it had reported 15 of those 100 hotels to TripAdvisor as having “blatant hallmarks” of fake reviews.

It said that in the case of one hotel in Jordan, TripAdvisor subsequently removed 730 of its five-star reviews.

Naomi Leach of Which? Travel accused TripAdvisor of a “failure to stop fake reviews and take strong action against hotels that abuse the system”.

“Platforms like TripAdvisor should be more responsible for the information presented to consumers.”

But TripAdvisor’s Mr Kay said the site had already taken action against the reviews in question, independently of the Which? investigation.

“This is something we do every day,” he said. “We have fraud detection tools that are far more sophisticated than those used by Which?”

Mr Kay said its investigators were always on the lookout for suspicious patterns of reviews.

In Italy, he added, TripAdvisor had assisted a prosecution that sent one fake reviewer to jail.

Under an EU directive that has been in force in the UK since 2008, hotel staff who post favourable reviews of their establishment on travel information websites such as TripAdvisor are committing a crime.

Any firm breaking the rules may face prosecution, stiff fines and possibly even jail terms for its staff.


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When Chelsea Women open their season against Tottenham Hotspur Women in front of a full Stamford Bridge this Sunday, one ex-Blues player will be watching with mixed feelings.

Lizzie Durack quit as a Chelsea goalkeeper this summer to follow a new financial career in the City of London, and many of her friends will be in action as the FA Women’s Super League kicks off.

And, while they have been taking part in pre-season training, she has been getting her feet under the table at Goldman Sachs in their Prime Brokerage Division, working with wealthy hedge fund clients.

So why – at the age of 25 – has she quit one of England’s top teams, with arguably the best years of her playing career still ahead of her?

‘Big decision’

“I made my decision for a lot of reasons, and obviously it was a difficult one to make.” says Durack, who has a degree in economics and neurobiology, and had previously served an internship at Goldman Sachs when she was a student.

“The main one was – I had come to a point in my football career where I had achieved a certain amount that I was happy with. In order to take the next step and be one of the best in the game, it would have taken five years or so – if I was ever going to be fortunate enough to actually achieve that top level.”

During the 2018-19 season, Durack found herself behind two other goalkeepers in the Chelsea pecking order, and by the end of the season there were four goalkeepers at the club vying for places.

“I had to make this big decision, and take on board the realisation that opportunities for a young goalkeeper are hard to come by,” she says.

“I had thrown myself into football since my teens. It got so I was wondering if I should start a financial career further years down the line, or just say ‘it has been a great time, now is the moment I should invest my energies into the world of finance’.”

‘Stimulation’

Durack – who now works in “capital introduction and consulting” at Goldman Sachs – talked things over with her parents who said they would support whatever decision she made.

Similarly, she said Chelsea women’s goalkeeping coach Stuart Serle was supportive, asking her to think again, believing she had potential and could kick on in football.

Born in Australia, she was the only girl in her school football team, went on to study at Harvard in the US for four years, won a full international cap for her mother’s homeland England, and played professionally for both Everton and Chelsea.

But a different career was never far from her thoughts, and during her last two years as a player she found time to study for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programme for investment professionals, and has passed her CFA Level 1 and 2 exams.

“It was starting to annoy me to see my academic peers getting on with their careers,” says Durack, whose father is from Sydney and mother from Doncaster, “I felt I was missing the intellectual stimulation that a career in finance could give me.”

‘Ups and downs’

Durack had joined Chelsea in 2018 after a second spell of playing at Everton, where she says she had a rather “volatile period as a professional”.

“I did enjoy my year at Chelsea, it helped me to see what I really wanted,” she says. “I was grateful for the opportunity at Chelsea.”

“We didn’t have a great season last year, it was not a successful season by Chelsea standards, it wasn’t ideal, but those things come in waves, and in sport you have to deal with the ups and the downs.”

Durack played three first team games for Chelsea last season and kept three clean sheets, in the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup against Crystal Palace, Yeovil Town and Tottenham Hotspur.

Now Durack is getting to grips with what she calls “a huge lifestyle change”, with her typical working day doubled from the six hours spent as a football pro, to ones of 12 hours or more.

“I am going into a very client facing role,” she says. “I am immersed in a very intense environment – I wanted to replicate sport.

“I have always found, in any role, that the people you work with can make or break the experience.”

Her salary will be more than in football, but she says more money “is a consequence, rather than a reason”, of the change. If cash was her motivation, she would “not have gone into football otherwise”.

‘Living wage’

“I was very much on a living wage at Chelsea, I wasn’t rolling in money,” she says.

She says that in her first spell as a player with Everton in 2013 she was not paid much more than expenses. During her second period at Everton in 2017-18 she was on what she calls “a semi-professional wage”, and at Chelsea she was on “a professional wage”.

Durack, who also played for Australia at Under-17 level, and England at numerous age levels, says sport and business have a number of similarities which will stand her in good stead in her new job.

“In both you need to be disciplined, confident, and resilient,” she observes. “Both are a roller-coaster existence, and things can get heated at times.

“But there is some more control of your life in finance. In the City although the hours are long and intense, but you have the ability to book a week of holiday, In contrast when the football season starts you are locked in for 10 months.

“Also luck plays a bigger part generally in football, and work-rate does not always mean winning success or even being selected for the team – sport is more subjective.”

Promotion

She says this summer’s Women’s World Cup was a great success, and that the sport in the UK should be trying to piggyback more on the men’s game to continue building awareness.

“Getting some of the men players at clubs on board to promote the women’s side of the game would be a great help,” she says.

“And, groundsmen won’t thank me for saying this, but I think they should have a women’s game opening for the men’s games. It should be considered a ‘one club’ thing, if you are a Chelsea fan, you are a women’s team supporter too.”

Looking ahead she says: “I hope to go along on the opening day, and follow Chelsea this season. The saddest thing for me is leaving some of my good friends and team-mates behind, and I still feel keenly about what they do.

“But any full time athlete will tell you about the sacrifices. I have made them, and it has been worth it, but all the hours add up and you often can’t enjoy being a 25-year-old. I couldn’t travel with freedom, or go and see my family in Australia with freedom. I am now looking forward to this new chapter in my life.”

The owners of porn streaming site Pornhub are profiting from “revenge porn” and failing to remove videos once reported, BBC News has been told.

One woman, ‘Sophie’, said she felt “violated” after a video featuring her – uploaded by her ex-partner – was viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Campaign group #NotYourPorn said such content allowed Pornhub owners MindGeek to make greater advertising revenues.

Pornhub said it “strongly condemns” revenge porn.

It added it had “the most progressive anti-revenge-porn policy in the industry”.

It said it could not find “any record of any email” from Sophie asking for the videos featuring her to be taken down, but was now in touch with her and “looking forward to solving this issue together”.

‘Shocked and embarrassed’

Sophie – not her real name – told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme she had been on a day out with her family 18 months ago when she had checked her phone to find missed calls and messages.

Her sister’s partner had found videos of her on Pornhub – the world’s largest porn website.

One was in a top-10 chart and had had hundreds of thousands of views.

“I felt shocked, embarrassed and violated,” she said.

Hundred clips created

Sophie had previously made six videos with her ex-partner.

They broke up about four years ago and she had not given him consent to put them online.

As soon as she had found out he had done so, she had called him to protest, she said, and a week later they had been taken down.

But then, using those six videos, someone created about 100 video clips, and re-uploaded them to Pornhub.

And when she had reported this to the site, it had been “not very helpful”, she said.

Sophie was put in touch with another company, which handles Pornhub’s requests to take down videos, but she said it too had been unresponsive.

She also went to the police. No-one has yet been charged.

Kate Isaacs, from the #NotYourPorn campaign, said revenge porn was often labelled on Pornhub as “amateur” or “home-made” content – two popular search terms for videos that were making the site more valuable for advertisers.

She now wants the site to do more to delete such content as soon as they are made aware of it, and to prevent it from being reuploaded once taken down.

‘The effect on my family’

By the time Sophie discovered the videos of her online, she was in a new relationship – and it placed a strain on the couple.

Her partner’s friends would make fun of him for her being on Pornhub, she said.

Sophie also has a teenage daughter, who she said “hasn’t been the same since”.

Pornhub vice-president Corey Price said: “Content that is uploaded to Pornhub that directly violates our terms of service is removed as soon as we are made aware of it and this includes non-consensual content.

“In 2015, to further ensure the safety of all our fans, we officially took a hard stance against revenge porn, which we believe is a form of sexual assault, and introduced a submission form for the easy removal of non-consensual content.

“We also use a state-of-the-art third-party digital fingerprinting software, which scans any new uploads for potential matches to unauthorised material and makes sure the original video doesn’t go back up on the platform.”

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The payment protection insurance (PPI) scandal could cost banks £53bn, according to a forecast made as firms warned of mounting bills from claims.

Dominic Lindley of New City Agenda made the estimate as CYBG warned of a potential £450m bill for new claims. Shares fell 21% to record lows.

The owner of Clydesdale, Yorkshire and Virgin Money blamed an “unprecedented volume” of complaints sparked by the 29 August deadline for claims.

Other banks also face higher costs.

Royal Bank of Scotland, owner of NatWest, said on Wednesday it could face a £900m charge, while Co-operative Bank said on Thursday it was assessing its costs.

Mr Lindley, who has been keeping a tally at the think tank, said: “This means that total provisions from the banks could reach £53bn.”

He believes the bank with the biggest bill, Lloyds Banking Group, could announce an extra provision of £2bn, while Barclays might set aside as much as £1bn more.

Neither Lloyds nor Barclays was able to comment on the speculation.

The Financial Conduct Authority set the deadline for PPI claims at 23:59 on 29 August to try to stem the wave of claims.

Policies were mis-sold to people who were borrowing money, but did not need the cover or would not be able to use it.

PPI was designed to protect borrowers if they had an accident, fell sick or lost their job.

But in millions of cases, the policyholders did not understand what they were paying for or that they might not be covered.

The deadline sparked a wave of publicity and fresh claims, according to the industry.

CYBG, which bought Virgin Money last year, said it received more than eight months’ worth of requests for information about potential claims in just one month, with approximately 340,000 in aggregate over five weeks,.

Some 120,000 of these were received in the final three days.

It said it also received a sustained increase in complaints during the same period, with an average of 5,000 a week during the first four weeks of August and an additional 22,000 complaints submitted during the final three days.

The typical compensation award across the industry is running at more than £2,000, but some people have been sent tens of thousands.

Co-op Bank on Thursday said it had “received a substantially greater volume of inquiries and complaints than expected in the final days prior to the complaint deadline” and was assessing the impact on its costs for processing and paying out claims.

Mr Lindley said the last-minute spike in PPI complaints would have “a significant impact on the banks when they announce their next financial results”.

Ian Gordon, analyst at Investec, said the announcement by CYBG was “really quite shocking in terms of the anticipated damage”.

He pointed out that £400m is 20% of CYBG’s current stock market. He now assumes that the bank will not pay a dividend for this year.

CYBG’s shares fell 20% to 110p – the lowest level since since it was spun out of National Australia Bank in 2016.

Magistrates in France have dropped charges against Air France and Airbus over a mid-Atlantic plane crash in 2009 that killed all 228 people on board.

The Airbus 330 aircraft flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris stalled in a storm and plunged into the ocean.

On Thursday, the magistrates looking into manslaughter charges brought by victims’ relatives decided that there were not enough grounds to prosecute.

They blamed the plane’s crew for losing control after speed sensors froze.

The main association of victims’ families called the magistrate’s decision an “insult to the memory of the victims” and announced plans to appeal, AFP news agency reports.

In 2012, a civil investigation found a combination of technical failure and human error had led to the loss of Flight AF447 on 1 June 2009.

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The report by the French aviation authority highlighted faults with the Airbus 330’s air-speed sensors which confused the pilots.

But it also pointed to inappropriate action by the pilots.

One of the mistakes of the crew was to point the nose of the aircraft upwards after it stalled, instead of down.

The accident is the worst disaster in the history of Air France.

The wreckage of the plane was discovered after a long search of 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq miles) of sea floor.

Since the crash, Air France has replaced the speed sensors on its fleet of Airbus jets with a newer model.

Europe’s aviation safety watchdog will not accept a US verdict on whether Boeing’s troubled 737 Max is safe.

Instead, the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) will run its own tests on the plane before approving a return to commercial flights.

The 737 Max has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes.

But Easa told the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) there would be “no delegation” on safety approval in a letter sent on 1 April.

Patrick Ky, Easa’s chief executive, revealed a list of four conditions given to the US authorities in a presentation to the European Parliament’s committee on transport and tourism on Monday.

Europe’s tough stance is a blow to Boeing’s hopes of a rapid return to service for the 737 Max, and is also a significant break with the established international practice of aviation regulators accepting each other’s standards.

A spokesperson for the FAA said it had “a transparent and collaborative relationship with other civil aviation authorities as we continue our review of changes to software on the Boeing 737 Max”.

“Our first priority is safety, and we have set no timeframe for when the work will be completed. Each government will make its own decision to return the aircraft to service, based on a thorough safety assessment.”

The 737 Max plane has not flown commercially since an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft crashed shortly after take-off on 10 March, killing 157.

It followed a Lion Air crash on 28 October last year which killed 189.

In both incidents, investigators have focused on the role played by a software system called MCAS (Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System), which was designed to make the aircraft easier to fly.

Probes have shown the software – and the failure of sensors – contributed to pilots not being able to control the aircraft.

Mr Ky’s presentation showed a refusal to accept delegation was the first of the four conditions that had to be met before flights in Europe could resume.

The other three were:

  • an “additional and broader independent design review” by Easa
  • that the two fatal crashes were “deemed sufficiently understood”
  • and that flight crews had been adequately trained in any changes to the plane.

Easa’s work on the 737 Max had entailed “an unprecedented level of effort”, with 20 aviation experts and two to three online meetings a week with Boeing engineers.

There were plans for a full week of trial flights with a modified aircraft at Boeing’s flight test centre in Seattle.

Boeing has been working on changes to the 737 Max’s flight control systems to avoid the MCAS problem. As well as changes to the plane, it has proposed changes to the ways pilots are trained.

Reports in the US have suggested that Boeing had hoped for FAA safety clearance next month, with airlines free to fly the aircraft later in the year.

FAA approval would allow US airlines to fly the aircraft, but European operators – including Norwegian Air – would need Easa clearance before returning it to commercial service.

The secondary ticketing website Viagogo has improved how it communicates with customers, prompting the Competition and Markets Authority to suspend plans for legal action.

The competition watchdog said its concerns over how Viagogo presented information had been addressed.

The website was now “worlds apart” from the one that prompted the legal action, the CMA’s chief executive said.

However, he said it had taken Viagogo far too long to make the changes.

“Key information needed to make informed decisions before buying a ticket is now much clearer, including on where you’ll sit in a venue and whether you might be turned away at the door,” said Andrea Coscelli.

“What is clearly not acceptable is the time it’s taken to get to this stage.”

A spokesperson for Viagogo said the company was “pleased” it had been able to work with the CMA “to find solutions to the final few areas of discussion”.

“This has been a complex and detailed process, and open dialogue with the market authority has been essential.

“We are grateful to the CMA for their engagement over the past few months and the ability of both parties to work collaboratively to reach this point.”

Viagogo, like rival ticket reselling operator, Stubhub, offers customers the chance to resell tickets for concerts, theatre, sporting, and other events that they have already purchased via an app.

But the arrival of such sites was blamed for hugely inflating costs for ordinary fans, with ticket touts buying up large numbers of tickets for resale on the secondary market.

Last year, the CMA asked operators to improve the information provided about things like whether there is a risk the buyer will be turned away at the door, which ticket they are getting, and the availability and popularity of tickets.

Two other rival sites, GetMeIn and Seatwave, subsequently closed down.

Earlier this year, Viagogo was told it would face legal action because it had failed to comply adequately with the CMA’s instructions.

However, the CMA said as a result of improvements to the Viagogo website since then the watchdog had now suspended its preparations for court action. But it said it had not ruled out future action if the problems recurred or if other issues were identified.

The CMA said it would keep up its pressure on Viagogo to ensure that it complied with UK consumer protection law.

British Airways has rejected a last-ditch proposal from pilots’ union Balpa to re-start negotiations aimed at averting strike action.

BA pilots are due to strike on Monday and Tuesday over a pay offer they say is too low.

Balpa said it would call off the strike if BA would discuss a new proposal outlined in a letter to the airline.

BA said it was open to “constructive” talks, but did not believe Balpa was acting in good faith.

The two day strike, set for next week, follows failed negotiations between the union and the airline over a pay offer of 11.5% over three years.

Unite and GMB, representing cabin crew and engineers, have accepted the offer.

However, pilots have argued that the pay award should be higher, following recent years of low pay increases and BA’s recent strong financial performance.

Earlier on Thursday, Balpa said it had asked BA to reopen talks over the new proposal, which it outlined in a letter to BA chief executive Alex Cruz.

Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said his members were still “very angry” with BA, but were also willing to be flexible.

“They also want to leave no stone unturned in trying to find a resolution to their dispute,” he said.

In response, BA said: “We do not believe the union is acting in good faith by making an 11th-hour inflated proposal which would cost an additional £50m.”

The airline said Balpa should return to the talks without pre-conditions. The union was acting “cynically” by waiting until a late stage when the airline had already made arrangements to manage the industrial action, BA added.

“Our customers need the certainty that Balpa will call off the strikes for good, not just for two days next week,” the airline said.

A further day of strike action is scheduled for 27 September.


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William Hill has announced its chief executive is leaving as it shifts its focus to online and international markets.

The departure of Philip Bowcock comes after it said 700 betting shops would close because of the reduction of the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to £2.

Ulrik Bengtsson, chief digital officer, replaces him on 30 September.

Mr Bowcock said it had been an “intense period” within the industry.

He said the business, which he had run for four years, had experienced “significant structural and regulatory change”.

“After all the work the team has done, I believe the business is now well placed to take advantage of the opportunities presented in the US market, as well as continued growth in digital,” said Mr Bowcock, who had originally joined as finance director in November 2015.

The company has previously warned that government’s decision to cut the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2 could knock its sales by £100m a year.

These gaming machines allow players to bet on the outcome of various simulated games and events, such as roulette, blackjack, bingo and horse races, sparking concerns that large sums can be lost quickly by customers.

Its plan to close around 700 shops could put 4,500 jobs at risk.

The company said Mr Bowcock’s departure was “part of William Hill’s succession planning and consistent with the group’s strategy of becoming a digitally-led and internationally diverse gambling company”.

Mr Bengtsson, who was recruited by Mr Bowcock in April 2018, said he saw a “great opportunity” to seek growth online and internationally.

He will have a £600,000 salary – in line with that received by Mr Bowcock – as well as bonuses while his pension contribution will be 5% of salary, rather than the 20% received by Mr Bowcock.

Ireland will try to ensure checks in a no-deal Brexit will be done away from the border, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

He added Ireland would have to work to protect its place within the EU single market.

Doing this without the backstop will lead to “unpalatable decisions”, the Irish deputy prime minister said.

Mr Coveney was speaking at an event in Dublin geared at preparing businesses for a no-deal Brexit.

“These are difficult choices,” Mr Coveney said.

“We do recognise the reality that Ireland will have a responsibility to protect its own place in the EU single market and that will involve some checks.

“But I can assure you that we will try to do that in a way that limits the risk, and we will try and do it, obviously, away from the border.”

Ireland’s latest contingency plan, published in July, said no deal would mean cross-border trade could not be as frictionless as it is now.

But it does not elaborate on where and how such checks would take place.

The Revenue Commissioners, Ireland’s tax authority, has suggested that while all customs declarations could be filed electronically, up to 8% of consignments would still need to be physically checked for customs purposes.

It says it is exploring ways of doing this at traders’ premises or at designated warehouses.

The Irish government has said it is giving its no-deal Brexit contingency plans “top priority”.

The cabinet met on Tuesday night to discuss the latest developments in Westminster, and said it noted that a no-deal Brexit is “increasingly likely”.

The legal default position is that the UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October, unless an extension is granted.

The Irish government said it has issued an additional “call to action” to ensure that businesses are ready for the new regulatory requirements in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Coveney said the Irish government would not allow the country to be “dragged out of the EU single market by default as a result of Brexit”.

“If we’re not careful, we won’t take the necessary action to protect the integrity of the single market, and therefore, our goods will be checked on the way into France, Germany or Belgium,” he said.

“That would be hugely damaging to our business model and we cannot, and will not, allow that to happen.

“That is why we will face difficult choices in the context of how we introduce a checking system, somewhere, away from the border, for obvious reasons, that can protect the integrity of the single market and reassure other EU countries that share the single market with us that we don’t have an open back door into the single market through Northern Ireland, if it’s unguarded.”