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Yelp sued over being 'extortion scheme'

Written by Andre Yoskowitz (Google+) @ 26 Feb 2010 21:30 User comments (5)

Yelp sued over being 'extortion scheme' The business rating and review site Yelp has been sued this week by two law firms, which are alleging unfair business practices and extortion.
The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of a veterinary hospital in California which asked Yelp to remove a negative review, but was then denied. Afterward, sales representatives from Yelp called the hospital at least once a week demanding a check for $300 to make bad reviews go away.

This is the second time Yelp has been accused of extorting from small businesses, with East Bay Express accusing them last year in a broad report.

Yelp responded to the new case, via TechCrunch: "Yelp provides a valuable service to millions of consumers and businesses based on our trusted content. The allegations are demonstrably false, since many businesses that advertise on Yelp have both negative and positive reviews. These businesses realize that both kinds of feedback provide authenticity and value. Running a good business is hard; filing a lawsuit is easy. While we haven’t seen the suit in question, we will dispute it aggressively."

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5 user comments

13.3.2010 19:23

as a member of yelp this sounds like some rogue people wanted to make a few bucks and thats it. i can't possibly see how this incident could be translated as something that yelp condones and/or encourages. good luck with that

220.3.2010 22:42
rodilyn
Unverified new user

The thing that people are missing is that businesses all deserve good and bad posts. We are not all perfect. I use bad comments as a way to improve. What yelp does, is WITHOLD good comments, then use them to extort paid advertising from you. They promise to reinstate the good comments if you become an advertiser. When there is a bad comment, it's easy to see if someone is genuinely disappointed with the service, or if they are disgruntled. After hearing both sides of the story (as in my case) They still refused to remove the bad comment. You could google my name and this girl bashed me on every site available. That's going past being unhappy with service. That's trying to ruin my business with lies. Calling me a thief because I cashed a previously stopped pmt check. Did it occur to anyone that she's the thief who tried to get a service from me then not pay? I hope you get a chance to read my blog. I also hope someone comes up with a good idea to figure out how to keep this company from affecting our businesses. It's truly criminal.

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 20 Mar 2010 @ 22:45

320.3.2010 23:32

Originally posted by kscogg:
as a member of yelp this sounds like some rogue people wanted to make a few bucks and thats it. i can't possibly see how this incident could be translated as something that yelp condones and/or encourages. good luck with that
Yelp Central, in San Francisco, approached physicians (among other professionals), whose positive reviews had just been erased, and offered to return them and place them first for a certain amount of money a month ... well over $100. When this was brought to the attention of Yelp, they said 'sue us', and hung up laughing. When attorneys wrote, sophomoric, arrogant letters were returned stating one had to sue each libelous review, and the reviews were anonymous. (Indeed, one needed only an e-mail address to write an anonymous review.)

Local papers covered this, as did television news. I'm afraid it is not 'some rogue people [wanting] to make a few bucks'. It appeared a huge extortion scheme; and it appeared right after a California court decided that the owner of a website who posted libel could not be sued. At that time, no law existed to prevent such extortion. The subject was dropped by the media.

Perhaps this is now illegal.

422.3.2010 14:27

perhaps it is an issue with the s.f. folks but here in dallas I am on yelp constantly and I see plenty of good reviews but you don't have to take my word for it.....go check it out yourself. that is pure crap to suggest they remove good reviews to extort money from businesses.

523.3.2010 13:40

Originally posted by kscogg:
perhaps it is an issue with the s.f. folks but here in dallas I am on yelp constantly and I see plenty of good reviews but you don't have to take my word for it.....go check it out yourself. that is pure crap to suggest they remove good reviews to extort money from businesses.
My apology. I was referring to Yelp's home office in San Francisco at the time Yelp began. Indeed, I was one of Yelp's first members, for I thought reviews would be edited and checked. Not so. (Total egalitarianism is like a society with no laws.)

One day I received a phone call from a friend in professional in San Francisco, a leading professional in her field, who has devoted her life to helping others. She has an international reputation. She didn't even own a computer, but started receiving insulting cancellations of initial appointments by phone. One said they read of her criminal past on the internet.

She phoned me. I looked her up on Google in several countries in which she is known, and the first entry was an obscene entry accusing her of murdering clients. (!) Then many of her long-term clients, looking for her phone number on Google, other Yelp members were horrified. They wrote proper reviews, which were erased the next day. They kept submitting them, and they kept being erased, even when signed with their real names. These reviews were accurate, and not solicited by her.

It was my opinion that these erasures were likely being done by a disgruntled client who worked for Yelp. Because I was involved, in the 80s, in the release of the internet to the public, this misuse concerned me personally. One client who was also concerned was an influential computer professional for, I suspect, a major search engine (she can't tell me). It was when he contacted her with great concern, then later said he had to drop the subject immediately that I became more concerned.

San Francisco's Yelp's discussion pages slowly became filled with complaints of intelligent-sounding people whose reviews were deleted the next day. This became a major subject. I still have an internal message I wrote to one person describing how organized crime could use such methods to force any small business to sell, then turn the building into a 'crack house'. This is extreme, but describes the severity of the injury. The psychological injury to the small-business owner is almost this bad, however.

Frankly, I couldn't understand it, but it was not all the search engines, but Google, that placed Yelp before the awards she had won by various professional organizations. However, I incurred a long pneumonia before I could write Boards of Directors.

One or two years passed until I heard that many local professional organizations were discussing its members having been approached by Yelp sales people offering to expunge their bad reviews for 'advertising' or something of that nature. This cost several hundred dollars a month.

This was several years ago, and it made local newspapers and television news. It saddened me to see the first 'social networking' organization, which members assumed was non-profit making (see Consumer Reports for the dangers of advertising), turn commercial and, in my opinion, turn us into pawns for organized crime.

Worse, its deleting good reviews from the very beginning - an observation, not an opinion - could finally be explained as preparation for nefarious, profit-making behavior. Any other explanations I'll welcome.

I can't help but believe this to be part of the moral decay of American business. (Yelp, if I remember correctly, appeared after a final California court decision that relieved website owners of any obligation for libel in posts or blogs. I hope my timing is wrong, and this wasn't an opportunity seen.) It is behavior of this nature that, at least, will force laws that weaken freedoms on the internet.





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