Yelp’s Shakedown of Small Business Continues

Over the past six years, thousands of complaints have been filed against the popular consumer reporting web site Yelp. This number is surprisingly low considering every week there is a large number of unofficial complaints expressed against Yelp. These complaints can be found on other internet sites, and they usually accuse Yelp of keeping all the positive reviews a business receives out of sight unless the business spends money on advertising with them.

After reviewing these complaints, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal said that most of the complaints were from small business owners who claimed that when they turned down an offer to advertise with Yelp, suddenly they had unjust, or even outright false, reviews posted on their page. One business owner even said that when he decided not to advertise with them, Yelp contacted him and told him the bad reviews would go away if he advertised with them. Of course, Yelp denied all accusations and claims of bad business behavior.

In an effort to validate these accusations, in January 2014 the Court of Appeals of Virginia requested the names of the users who left negative anonymous comments about small businesses. Having these names could have proven whether Yelp was fabricating negative reviews in an attempt to bully small business owners to spend money with them, but the consumer reporting website refused to provide the information.

Unfavorable comments generated online can have a devastating effect on businesses, even causing layoffs. This is not the first time Yelp was taken to court to obtain names of reviewers. Every month, legal requests are made, and still no names. In addition, whenever a new charge is brought against the consumer reporting website, the negative reviews seem to magically disappear.

This mob-style approach of intimidation to acquire revenue leaves many upset. Some have even considered their tactics to be frighteningly close to extortion. Even though these claims have yet to be proven, there have been too many to ignore.