ADOTAS – One of three civil suits against Yelp filed in the California Superior Court is by Boris Levitt, the owner of a San Francisco furniture-restoration company. He alleges that Yelp retaliates against businesses that don’t choose to advertise by negatively skewing their ratings and reviews on the site. The conflict gained publicity when the East Bay Express published an article claiming that Yelp offered to hide negative customer reviews for businesses in exchange for advertising.
According to The Wall Street Journal report on the matter, Mr. Levitt said, “Yelp misleads the public by manipulation of average ratings,” he claims to have kept records to show that some positive reviews about his furniture company disappeared after he declined to advertise on Yelp. “If they hadn’t changed my average rating by deleting my reviews, I would have more business.”
Yelp’s Chief Executive, Jeremy Stoppelman, denies the charges—blaming them partly on businesses misunderstandings about Yelp’s rating system and lawyers’ desires to spur litigation.
Two other suits seeking class-action status on behalf of small businesses have followed. One was filed on March 3 by a San Diego spa, and one on Feb. 24 by a Long Beach animal hospital. A lawyer representing the plaintiff in the San Diego spa suit, Jared Beck, said it has been joined by nine other plaintiffs, in a case that alleges Yelp violated California laws against attempted extortion and unfair competition, among other things.
“The conduct is an offer to manipulate content in exchange for payment. That is plain and simple,” Beck he said. But Yelp’s Stoppelman counters by stating Yelp sales agents never offer to improve a company’s online ratings and reviews if they choose to advertise. The WSJ quotes Stoppelman saying, “If you could garner a top review on Yelp simply by emailing people you knew would review you favorably, that would render the site useless.”