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Merchant Sues To Stop Yelp’s “Trustworthy” Review Claims
A substantial number of local business owners are frustrated by (even resentful of) Yelp’s review filter. Now operating under the banner of “recommended reviews,” the algorithm’s purpose is to catch and segregate untrustworthy reviews or those that violate Yelp’s guidelines.
Despite the company’s repeated efforts to explain and clarify the review filtering process, it remains vexing to many merchants. Some continue to believe that the review filter is used to punish or reward them based on whether they advertise on the site.
Yelp has also been sued a number of times accordingly.
Despite the fact that none of those suits succeeded, these “extortion” perceptions persist. Yelp continues to have difficulty convincing some business owners (and even some in “the industry”) that its review filter isn’t tied to advertising.
Yelp asserts that its reviews are “trustworthy” and unbiased. But one angry restaurant owner has sued Yelp to attack the company’s claims around its reviews and review filter.
James Demetriades, who operates several restaurants in the Mammoth Lakes area of California, filed suit in California state court accusing Yelp of violating the state’s Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq. (UCL)) and False Advertising Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17500 et seq. (FAL)) regarding it representations about the accuracy and trustworthiness of its reviews.
There’s a great deal of legal and procedural history that I won’t get into but is well explained by Eric Goldman. The case has already gone up on appeal on a preliminary question; however the appellate court allowed the case to proceed and sent it back down to the trial court to continue.
The plaintiff’s stated objective is to prevent Yelp from making any public statements about the trustworthiness of its reviews in the future. However his true or ultimate objective is to retaliate against Yelp for the power it has in the market and for the way it presents reviews about his restaurants.
Yelp can’t be sued for any of the content on its site. So this is an indirect way to attack that content.
During the next phase of the case the plaintiff’s lawyers will probably seek to discover the mechanics of the “review filter” algorithm and how it defines and separates recommended from unrecommended reviews. Yelp will likely resist and there may be another appeal.
It’s clear from this case and continuing perceptions of bias in the market that Yelp needs to do still more education about its review process. It should also continue to add useful features and services for business owners so that it becomes an increasingly useful tool for them and not just a “necessary evil” or antagonist in the marketplace.