Chinese travel platform Mafengwo denies faking reviews amid plagiarism scandal

Photo: Mafengwo

China's Trip Advisor-like platform Mafengwo had a rough weekend after an Internet article claiming an estimated 85 percent of its user-generated content was plagiarized from rivals went viral.

The report was released by a WeChat account named "Xiaosheng Bibi" on Saturday using data provided by Hurui Data, a Shenzhen-based tech company.

"Mafengwo's plagiarism is much worse than we can imagine," Xiaosheng Bibi said.

"We established a very strict standard for our data analysis. In terms of content, copying the exact same words would be calledplagiarism. And the accounts, which copy over 150 reviews, would be considered fake user accounts."

The report said 7,454 fake user accounts were found plagiarizing content from competitors like Ctrip, eLong, Meituan-Dianping, or even Yelp.

The total amount of copied data included 5.72 million reviews and blog articles on restaurants and bars, as well as 12.2 million reviews and stories about hotels - altogether representing around 85 percent of all reviews Mafengwo has on its platform.

In response, Mafengwo on Monday published a statement on its official Weibo account, denying accusations of being involved in plagiarizing reviews.

"Mafengwo is a travel platform, not a local service site, and user reviews only account for 2.91 percent of the company's data," the statement said. "We remove 26,000 posts each week for violating relevant terms and conditions and have deleted 15,000 accounts suspected of plagiarism."

"Xiaosheng Bibi blamed the illegal behavior of unscrupulous merchants to Mafengwo, which seriously contradicts the facts and third-party statistics," it added.

Mafengwo regards the report as "distortion of facts" and an "organized attack", a spokesman said.

It filed a lawsuit against the report's author Ding Ziquan and Hurui Data for defamation on Monday. Xiaosheng Bibi later published an article stating that more notarized and judicially authenticated evidence will be unveiled, and demanded Mafengwo to verify its allegations, or he will file a counterclaim, according to media reports

Founded in 2006, the Beijing-based company raised $133 million in a series D round of venture capital funding in December 2017, and counts General Atlantic, Temasek Holdings, Hillhouse Capital and Qiming Venture Partners among its investors. It claims to have 100 million monthly active users, over 135,000 user-written travel articles and revenue exceeding 9 billion yuan in 2017.

In August, a Reuters report citing anonymous sources stated that Mafengwo was looking to raise up to $300 million in a new funding round that could value the firm at between $2 billion and $2.5 billion.

Plagiarism is not rare in the country's Internet industry. To attract investors and downstream businesses, many platforms work to create review data of a certain size.

In 2008, travel booking platform Ctrip sued competitor Qunar, claiming the latter copied tens of thousands of its hotel reviews.

In July 2018, Xiaohongshu, an e-commerce platform of fashion and beauty products, said that local service app Dianping created fake accounts to plagiarize notes from Xiaohongshu systematically.

"Consumers' positive reviews can promote the development of the sites to some extent, so many investors are willing to allocate funds to run this column on their platforms," Chen Zhanling, a Beijing-based lawyer, said.

"What troubles them is that China at present has no any laws to regulate who are the copyright owners of the reviews," he said. "If Mafengwo is confirmed to be involved in plagiarism, it can only be sued for suspicion of unfair competition."

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