Since Yelp.com’s inception in July 2004, the online business review company has been accused of altering reviews of businesses that do not pay for advertising on Yelp. Despite these allegations, none of these claims have ever resulted in a successful ruling in court. So how true are these rumors?
When a business pays for advertisement space on the site, Yelp will feature that business when customers use its search tool. Not only does advertising make up the majority of Yelp’s revenue stream, but it also allows paying businesses more visibility than non-paying businesses.
Louis Rossmann, owner of Rossmann Repair Group, had always considered the rumors about Yelp to be “crap” until they became a reality after he turned down paid advertisement on the site.
“I’ve been receiving calls from Yelp for years and years,” Rossmann said. “Last month, I received one, and like all Yelp salespeople this one does not want to leave you alone, they do not want to get off the phone, they do not allow you to hang up. The only way to get rid these salespeople is to be very rude because even if you hang up they’ll call you right back or they’ll email you right back. I was sick and tired of it, so I uploaded a video detailing my experience.”
Rossman uploaded a video to YouTube in which he cataloged his experience with a Yelp sales representative who would not stop contacting him. In the days following the release of his video, Rossmann started receiving defamatory messages and threats from friends and family of the Yelp salesperson. Rossman was informed that as a result of his video, the salesperson was subsequently fired due to her sales practices.
After a couple days of nothing happening, Rossmann found two reviews on his business’s Yelp page that were fake. He had no documentation of the people, devices or repairs that were claimed to be a problem by each reviewer. He inevitably discovered that the profiles used to leave the false negative Yelp reviews were left by friends of the terminated sales representative.
“Every time I have gotten a fake review and flagged it, nothing has happened for five years … The reason they deleted this (review) is because this review was so obviously an embarrassment to Yelp.”
This direct experience led Rossman to believe that it is possible Yelp promotes an aggressive sales approach that could potentially lead to a problem like his, where a “rogue” sales representative acts outside of the company’s code of conduct. But he is not convinced Yelp promotes extortion.
In 2010, a group of small businesses filed a lawsuit in San Francisco against Yelp, claiming that Yelp’s advertisement practices essentially amounted to extortion. The case was thrown out in 2014 with the court ruling that the plaintiffs had failed to prove Yelp was fabricating negative reviews and that although the “favorite review” feature is “hard-bargaining” it is not extortion.
For University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa student Omeed Rabani, lawsuits against Yelp are a dead end.
“You get what you get,” Rabani said. “Whether Yelp is extorting businesses or not, there are going to be false reviews anyways. That’s just the internet.”
by Ian Roesch, Ka ‘Ohana Co-Editor in Chief