Yelp Accused of Extortion in Trading Positive Review for Advertising Money

Yelp, a site that allows customers to write reviews of businesses, is the subject of an interesting lawsuit that alleges that the San Francisco company engages in secret quid pro quos with businesses under which it removes negative reviews in exchange for advertising.

The complaint includes an account from Mary Seaton, the owner of a furniture store in San Mateo, who says that Yelp took down negative reviews and replaced them with old positive reviews — once she agreed to pay for advertising. The negative reviews returned, she claims, when she stopped paying for advertising.

The effective extortion claims fall short of a guy in a gray fedora and bulging jacket and no neck appearing at a store and asking “yous maybe want da bad reviews to go away?” However, businesses insist that the website is an Internet version of a shakedown operation.

The class action contains various such accounts following the same pattern, here.

Businesses have been organizing anti-Yelp websites, here.

Yelp reviews have previously led to litigation (here, but this claims is directed against the company as opposed to reviewers. The company was accused in 2009 of shady dealings with advertisers, here.

It will be interesting to see the defense on the case and whether the company claims a rogue employee defense – much like ACORN in its recent controversy. It could make for a highly damaging trial for the company, which would have to show that the negative comments are removed as part of a routine and unrelated process.

For the full story, click here and here.

5 thoughts on “Yelp Accused of Extortion in Trading Positive Review for Advertising Money”

  1. Hey Turley,

    I read the Yelp article on I’ll repeat here what I said there.

    I’m inclined to side with Yelp on this.

    Let’s look at the facts (or, more properly, the complete lack thereof).

    I don’t trust these unhappy business owners suddenly seeing a pattern with their reviews. There is no report of the owners printing out the reviews every day and comparing the order in which those reviews appear from day to day to day, which is really what would be necessary to demonstrate the ranking collusion on the level in the allegations.

    Further, I know a lot of small business owners and for the most part these are not what I would call technically savvy people. I wouldn’t trust them to judge this issue based on their impression, not only considering how non-tech-savvy they are but also considering that they have a massive subjective bias and people are generally not rational about negative comments.

    A lot of commenters (in the article) immediately jumped to the conclusion that Yelp is engaging in this collusion. If there were such collusion happening, it would be reported by their employees. There’s too many of them with blogs of their own and hungry for content to keep a good conspiracy like this down.

    I’ve used Yelp for years and written a few reviews myself (redtimmy on yelp) – about half positive and half negative. I take pains to make my reviews as accurate as possible, speaking only to my own experience. I find the negative reviews of others to be sometimes accurate, though often I will check out what other reviews that user has written to see what else they like and don’t like. You see, I USE THE SITE the way it was intended. I don’t think these small business owners do!

    Small businesses get dinged a lot on Yelp, that is true. But small businesses usually deserve those reviews – they fuck up a lot. A LOT. That’s why they are still small. I still patronize small business almost exclusively (SF is not chain friendly) but as I said, small businesses are usually small for a reason.

  2. And who posts these negative reviews? Maybe it the Gold Rush of 09′ and the bubble doth shine.

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