Chinese online travel agency Mafengwo.com (马蜂窝), which is in talks to raise USD 300 million from a clutch of investors, is expected to achieve a valuation of USD 2-2.5 billion. But now the company is in a big trouble after reports emerged about fake comments on its platform.
On October 20th, a trio from Hurui Data Team (乎睿数据团队) and writer Ziquan Ding from Xiaoshengbibi Me Media（小声比比）exposed the unicorn’s competitiveness with its user-generated content (UGC), which, they said, counterfeited 6/7 reviews, or say 18 million so-called authentic comments.
With the detailed evidences of fake identities, contradictory locations and time, repeated appearances on the official lucky draw list and illogical activity of some suspicious accounts which faked a large number of comments on the site, the team drew a horrible conclusion: staff of Mafengwo.com copied comments from feedback sites, such as Yelp, Ctrip (携程)，Dianping（大众点评)and eLong (艺龙)， as its UGC.
Hurui Data Team put forth several detailed evidence such as: a frequent winner ID of lucky draw posted was a company insider; Mafengwo.com hotel and restaurant reviews were posted during office hours on weekdays, unlike other websites where it was posted mostly on weekends and during lunch or dinner time.
Two days after the shocking exposure, not only did Mafengwo.com refute the allegations, but it also accused the data team and the writer of staging an organized attack on its reputation. The company has filed a case against them at the Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court.
In a statement, Mafengwo.com said, only 2.91% of all and the criticized restaurant reviews are not core UGC. It also explained the illogical fluctuation of comments as a normal marketing gimmick and the suspicious accounts were online-seller-backed.
The data team and the writer responded to the counter-charge saying Mafengwo.com’s method of calculating the fake reviews were wrong.
Despite all this, reports emerge that the allegations will not affect its prospective funding round in which Tencent is a major investor.
(Reported by Xintong Chen, an intern at The Passage.)