Yelp Review Site Accused of Extortion

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Online review site Yelp has been accused of extortion by business owners who say they’ve been pressured to sign up for advertising subscription services in order to make negative reviews less visible to users.

According to the class action complaint, Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach, Calif. received “high-pressure calls” from Yelp advertising employees saying that negative reviews of the hospital could be hidden on the business listing page and wouldn’t come up in search engine results if the establishment paid at least $300 a month for 12 months of advertising on the site.

About 29 million consumers in January alone trusted Yelp to help make purchasing decisions, and 1.3 million have the Yelp mobile app for the iPhone, according to the company. But now critics are questioning how trustworthy the site is.

According to a blog post by Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, the company does not offer to delete negative reviews or change the order in which they appear; it simply offers to put a “favorite” review at the top of a business’s page for a fee, a change that it considers an “enhanced listing.”

Reviews are only deleted from the site if they go against its terms of service, for instance, by using the site to “threaten, stalk, defraud, incite, harass, or advocate the harassment of another person,” or using the site “in a manner that may create a conflict of interest, such as trading reviews with other business owners or writing or soliciting shill reviews,” according to the company.

Yelp calls the lawsuit “without merit,” and plans to fight it “vigorously.”

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