Yelp and Your Online Reputation

Yelp lawsuit raises the question: Do online reviewers have the right to remain anonymous?

June 03, 2015
Yelp sticker on business door.

Yelp has long been accused of extortion-like business practices, but recently, the online review site went on the defensive when a crowdfunded documentary began receiving national attention. The film, which is halfway through principal photography, claims that Yelp buries positive reviews and highlights negative ones if business owners won’t advertise with the site. Yelp officials vehemently deny the allegation. 

Billion Dollar Bully had an original goal of raising $60,000 on Kickstarter to pay for the rest of filming, but it handily surpassed that figure, with more than $90,000 donated by the end of the funding period. 

Media attention for the film affected Yelp’s shares, which were down by as much as 4 percent when news of the documentary hit. The stock has rebounded since then, and at press time was trading at 49.59. Yelp’s high was 101.75 in March of last year. 

In other Yelp news, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in April in a closely watched case regarding a carpet-cleaning company in Springfield. 

In 2012, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning sued three Yelp users who anonymously posted negative reviews of the business. Owner, Joe Hadeed claimed that the reviews were fabricated and that he was unable to match them with any customer records. 

In the suit, the reviewers are named “John Does” and Hadeed’s attorneys subpoenaed Yelp for their real identities. Yelp refused, and two lower courts found in Hadeed’s favor, ordering Yelp to supply the information.

However, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed those decisions, stating that Yelp doesn’t have to disclose the users’ information. The reasoning was that the state’s lower courts did not have jurisdiction over Yelp—a California-based company. The justices’ decision to focus their ruling on jurisdictions rather than Hadeed’s actual argument leaves an important legal question unanswered: Do online reviewers have the right to remain anonymous in this case? PR

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Comments

The concept of online reviews for business has the potential for a lot of benefit, but unless there's more accountability put in place for the reviewer, groups like Yelp could lose their credibility.  It's not fair for a business owner to see his/her business suffer unfairly from one bad review.
The accusation that Yelp is bullying business owners may not be true, but if these services are free to the public, then Yelp must get their money from somewhere.  Advertising dollars are the only real source of revenue available, and that has generally come from the businesses that benefit from Yelp's exposure.  It's a conflict of interest.  If an online review group would charge a simple membership fee to cover its expenses, then the conflict of interest isn't there.  The customer would pay a fair price for a service and get its benefits.  

Yelp lists my business as closed with no way to contact them to show otherwise.

As a small business owner,I know how important these "reviews" are. When I asked why 6 or more of my GREAT reviews were hidden they kept telling me the algorithms story and how they don't choose them and yadda, yadda, yadda. Why would they even have something that does this is my question. To which there is no answer. . It is so aggravating. I am an advertiser, so I don't see how I get any better treatment like this article stated that is for sure.
Angie's List does this as well. The only difference is on A.L. you are buried if you don't pay them every month to advertise. Where on Yelp if you don't advertise, you can be found. Angie's List is far worse in my eyes. (home advisor is next!) 

Our company was subjected to the rantings and extortion tactics of an out-of-control alcoholic client. This was 6 years ago. We're still affected by his abusive statements. Unfortunately, Yelp is motivated by condemnation and subsequent greed. 

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