Court Rules That Yelp Can Manipulate Ratings If It Wants To

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Yelp says it doesn't publish more positive reviews for businesses that buy ads from it, but a court said it would be legal if it did.

Some businesses accuse Yelp of manipulating its business-review ratings in an effort to sell more ads. Yelp denies the allegations. The online business review site said it doesn’t publish more positive reviews on its paying customers’ pages than it does for non-ad-buying businesses.

“Yelp has long faced accusations that it manipulates its business-review ratings to sell advertising — five stars for a big ad buy, say, and two stars for a turndown,” the San Francisco Chronicle said.

It’s a he said-she said game, but in this case, it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. According to the Chronicle, a federal appeals court said it’s legal for the San Francisco-based company to manipulate the ratings on its site.

The court upheld a federal district judge’s dismissal of a proposed class-action damage suit by small-business owners who claimed Yelp’s sales representatives told them their ratings would depend on their decision to buy ads. USA Today said:

“As Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the (alleged) threat of economic harm that Yelp leveraged is, at most, hard bargaining,” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the three-judge panel in Tuesday’s ruling.

While manipulating business reviews may not be illegal, it’s certainly misleading. I don’t use Yelp, but if I did, I’d be reluctant to believe the overall review of a business, since the court has said Yelp can do as it likes.

Do you use Yelp? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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