For more than five years now, we’ve reported on business owners’ allegations that review site Yelp makes shakedown calls, threatening to hide negative reviews if businesses pay up for advertising, and promising to hide positive ones if they do. A Toronto restaurant is just the latest business to make such claims, and took the allegations to that city’s subreddit. Only there’s no real proof.
No one has ever produced credible proof that these calls have occurred. (Consumerist’s idea: someone start a fake restaurant called “The Honey Pot” and wait for Yelp to call with a tape recorder hooked to the phone 24/7.) Plenty of business owners have filed lawsuits and complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, but there’s still no evidence that such phone calls are really happening.
Reporting on the case, The Daily Dot went straight to the source: they asked Yelp about the Toronto restaurant owner’s allegations. Some of the hidden positive reviews for that restaurant, a Yelp spokesperson explained,
In an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit last year, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said that sales staff do not have the power to filter reviews in order to win sales–that’s only up to the all-powerful algorithm.
There has never been any amount of money you could pay us to manipulate reviews. We do have an algorithm that highlights the most useful and reliable reviews on our site which is about 75% of contributed content. I started Yelp to solve my own need of finding a great doctor, obviously we needed to protect consumer against fake reviews and spam to make sure the site is actually helpful (anyone remember CitySearch?). That’s why we pioneered the development of a review filter, a technology that other competitors like Google have since tried to mimic.
Yelp claims that this is why they can’t give many details of how their algorithm works: competitors want to steal it.
New York’s Attorney General did find that 19 companies in that state had posted or hired outsiders to post positive reviews for their own businesses, but, again, that doesn’t implicate Yelp.
Yelp defends itself against angry Reddit mob [Daily Dot]