Posted on September 23, 2014

Yelp Now Legally Allowed to Manipulate a Business Rating

Recently a landmark decision was handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case was a class action lawsuit headed by Boris Y. Levitt, business owner in Northern California, and was accusing Yelp! of extortion or attempted extortion of advertising payments by manipulating the business’ reviews and ratings. This wasn’t the first time Yelp had been accused of this practice, heck, it wasn’t even the fifth time, and yet again Yelp won as the court ruled that “the business owners failed sufficiently to allege that Yelp wrongfully threatened economic loss by manipulating user reviews.” A link to the actual court case follows this article.

No one was particularly surprised by the decision as this has become the norm when suing Yelp – they always win. However, what was particularly interesting this time around was what the court ruled if Yelp had in fact manipulated user reviews. “We conclude first, that Yelp’s manipulation of user reviews, assuming it occurred, was not wrongful use of economic fear,…” Let’s let that sink for just a moment, repeat it and come back to it later – “We conclude first that Yelp’s manipulation of user reviews, assuming it occurred, was not wrongful use of economic fear,…”

What followed in the ruling was a lengthy diatribe giving the definition of extortion and economic harm through prior court cases. The Court made the point that a business on Yelp has no legal obligation to publish any reviews, let alone positive ones, as this benefit is only available because Yelp made the rules, created the system and venue, and can pretty much legally do whatever it wants with its property – event damage your reputation to get money out of you. Three cheers for legitimacy in business!

So what does this mean for the millions of small businesses that exist and rely upon honest reviews and review systems to spread the good word about their services? Well, for the truly honest representation of how the public feels about a business, Yelp is no longer the bastion of accuracy it has always claimed to be, which means that you cannot trust a Yelp profile any longer, which means hopefully they will finally go away. Sadly, I do not foresee this happening any time soon. So what do you do in the meantime? How do you combat Yelp? First, you give me a call, second, you recognize that there are hundreds of sites where reviews can be posted that do NOT manipulate the ranking system and start telling your clientele about those sites instead. It may take a few months, but eventually they will outrank Yelp and become the new location where your honest and legitimate story is shared with the general public.

Good luck.

Link to court case: