Yelp Accused Of More Negative Review Extortion

Yet again, business owners are accusing massive review site Yelp of extortion–and they’ve filed a class action lawsuit. This time, instead of guaranteeing positive reviews in exchange for cupcakes, the site is accused of contacting business owners and offering to remove their negative reviews for money. In a written statement, Yelp denied the allegations and noted, “Running a good business is hard; filing a lawsuit is easy.”

An animal hospital in Long Beach, Calif. filed the class action suit, alleging that Yelp representatives tried to sell the hospital an advertising package that includes hiding negative reviews. From the complaint:

Soon after the appearance of these negative reviews, Dr. Perrault and
Mr. Vargas began receiving frequent, high-pressure calls from Yelp advertising
employees, who promised to manipulate Cats and Dogs’ Yelp.com listing page in
exchange for Cats and Dogs purchasing an advertising subscription.

For example, on or about January 5, 2010, Cats and Dogs received a
Yelp sales call from “Kevin.” Kevin said that Cats and Dogs could advertise with
Yelp for a minimum payment of $300 per month, with a minimum 12-month
commitment. Kevin stated that if Cats and Dogs purchased a one-year advertising
subscription from Yelp:

  • Yelp would hide negative reviews on the Cats and Dogs Yelp.com listing page, or place them lower on the listing page so internet users “won’t see” them;
  • Yelp would ensure negative reviews will not appear in Google and other search engine results;
  • Yelp would allow Cats and Dogs to decide the order that its reviews appear in on its
  • Yelp.com listing page; and
  • Cats and Dogs could choose its “tagline,” i.e., the first few lines of a single review shown on every search result page in which Cats and Dogs appears (for instance, Veterinarian in Long Beach”).

Dr. Perrault declined the offer, saying that he wanted to track referrals from Yelp for three months without ads, but might thereafter be willing to test Yelp’s advertising potential.

Within a week of denying Kevin’s advertising offer, the negative review from Chris R. reappeared on the Cats and Dogs Yelp.com listing page.

Have you noticed any similar Yelp oddities, either as a business owner or as a reviewer (negative reviews removed or pushed back)?

Yelp Class Action Website [Official Site]
Yelp Accused of Extortion [Wired]

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