Yelp Reviews Corruption Courtroom Drama Include Allegations of Extortion & Review Manipulation
Yelp User Reviews Not Accurate or Honest
Evidence of an institutionalized corporate policy of determining whether to afford a Business preferential treatment (i.e., remove or block bad reviews and to highlight positive reviews), based on the amount of relative advertising or other financial benefit provided to the supposedly objective review site.
In addition to removing or completely blocking bad reviews of various Businesses in exchange for payments in the form of “advertising payments,” evidence was introduced in Trial that Yelp had several issues of corruption deeply entwined in their corporate culture.
For those who chose not to pay the alleged extortion, evidence was introduced in Trial that Yelp employed “over 200 people to write negative reviews about the business and post them in prominent positions associated with that Business or that Business’ competitors.
Makes one wonder how this issue ever saw the inside of a courtroom and was not settled a long time ago under the protection of the legal shield of a Confidentiality Clause or Gag Order.
To Review the Court’s bizarre ruling: YELP’S COURT LOSS
Review Site Sopranos’ Style
Like a Mafia boss taking “Protection Money,” Yelp strong-armed various small and mid-sized businesses into a corner, then forced them to fork over relatively large sums of cash for various advertising and other offers benefitting Yelp, in exchange for preferential treatment and supply targeted traffic to the business listings.
Yelp has enjoyed its “powers” as a review site and traffic generator that forces businesses into its system and into paying them.
First, Yelp forces your Business in its universe without your consent. Then they mask your best reviews, effectively creating a pay-wall where business owners must pay to keep some integrity.
BTW, when was the crime of extortion removed from our Criminal Codes?
In a tragic moment of irony, the Courts unanimously sided with the corrupt review site, declaring in their ruling, Yelp is a private business and therefore, can “run their reviews on whatever policy their Shareholders decided to implement into their business plan.” Huh?
How Could Yelp Admit to Corruption in Court?
Yelp has spent a King’s Ransom on Public Relations Professional to keep the consumer perception that Yelp was in some ways, “people’s review site,” and, “the one place to find objective reviews and personal experiences online,” when nothing was further from the truth.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Yelp is served with about 6-10 subpoenas a month, demanding reviewer information. Most subpoenas received revolve around the issue of Businesses who believe that they have been slandered unfairly or by a competitor.
When these Business Owners pay for the privilege, Yelp is quick to help them show a greater presence on the website, even selling ad space for them on competitor’s pages. If these owners cancel, Yelp is just as quick to push those good reviews into the “not recommended” category.
Effect of the Court Ruling Against Businesses and Entrepreneurs
Not only does it set precedent that you can write whatever reviews you want and swear they are true and accurate, when they are just the highest paying to get to the top of the list. It also sends messages to consumers that no review in even capable of maintaining any form of objectivity and that corruption is still alive and well in our economic system.
Yelp Marketed Itself As the Only Objective Review Website
The mid-market platform, whose financially successful business model revolved around the foundation of an “honest and objective review,” but also secretly involved the practice of forcing Business Owners into a corner for leverage, effectively forcing them to opt-in to Yelp’s extortion plan.
Now Yelp’s behavior has the endorsement of the Law. God bless capitalism… Now pass the ammunition.
But even if it was manipulating user-generated content, according to the law, Yelp’s practices are all perfectly legal. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that Yelp is entitled to set a price for its ads.
What are the Courts Rational to Allow Yelp to Continue to Operate in this Manner?
The SFGate reported: “As Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the (alleged) threat of economic harm… is, at most, hard bargaining,” and not extortion or unfair business practices, according to Judge Marsha Berzon during Tuesday’s 3-0 ruling.
The court also upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of a proposed class action suit, which small business owners filed in response to being told by Yelp representatives that ratings were dependent on ad buys. Tuesday’s ruling also stipulated that businesses reviewed on the platform have no legal right to a high rating.
And no legal recourse if they get bad ratings — no matter what the reason. Just about a month ago, Yelp made headlines because a New York hotel on its platform attempted to fine a group of people who’d stayed there during a wedding $500 for each negative review they posted. The hotel said they would refund the money if the bad reviews were deleted. In response, the hotel’s Yelp page was inundated with one star reviews. One reviewer summed it up well: “Unprofessional. Not hospitable. Disaster for an Inn.”
Scott Michelman, an attorney with Public Citizen, reported that, “Nobody enters into a consumer contract expecting that they’re going to be paying a fine if another consumer doesn’t like the business.”
That said, caveat emptor, or the closest Latin phrase that translates to “let the browser beware.” Yelp has posted steady revenue increases since the first complaints started rolling in to the FTC in 2008. Yelp’s local advertising makes up 75% of its stock value and is its biggest revenue stream.
For additional information, please see EsqBusiness.com.