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Yelp Slaps Consumer Alerts On More Pages, Renews Them On Others

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Yelp announced on Friday that it has launched a new round of Consumer Alerts for “a handful of businesses” in its latest efforts to combat the ongoing problem of fake reviews.

Do you think the fake review problem has gotten better since Yelp started posting Consumer Alerts? Let us know in the comments.

Yelp first revealed the Consumer Alerts program in the fall of 2012. It’s a tool designed to fight fake reviews by showing warnings to users on the pages of businesses who have been found to pay for reviews. Users are greeted with a big notice like so:

Yelp doesn’t kick the business out of its service, but the embarrassing warning appears on the business listing for three months. Yelp has hoped that this would serve as a deterrent, but last month, the company said it had issued 285 of the alerts with more to come.

More indeed. Yelp’s Kristen Whisenand writes:

We normally remove alerts after 90 days, but we won’t hesitate to renew them if we continue to see suspicious activity. That’s exactly what happened for two businesses this time around. We again found something amiss with two of the locations for Chicago-based nail salon, Azure Nails. And someone was caught red-handed yet again trying to buy reviews for Evergreen Carpet Cleaning in Los Angeles.

This type of activity not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules. Yelp’s main line of defense is our automated recommendation software which works behind the scenes at all times to recommend reliable and useful reviews. It’s unfortunate that some people are so set on gaming the system (and misleading consumers) that the additional step of posting Consumer Alerts is necessary. That said, we take our responsibility of providing trusted information very seriously, and we’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that Yelp remains helpful to consumers.

She shares an ad the company found:

Just how much Yelp’s Consumer Alerts are really deterring businesses from writing and acquiring fake reviews remains a mystery. Clearly’ they’re not deterring everyone, including businesses that have already been on the receiving end of the alerts.

Earlier this year, CEO Jeremy Stoppelman talked about how the company conducts “sting operations,” where Yelpers pose as users willing to write paid reviews. He said at the time that this was only happening in the U.S. so far, but that the operations would expand into Europe.

“It has been incredibly successful in that we have been able to catch businesses red handed,” Stoppleman said.

Still, you have to wonder how many aren’t being caught.

Yelp has also utilized the legal system to go after paid reviews. Last year, the company sued the site BuyYelpReview.com, and more recently Yelp sued a guy for planting fake reviews on his business page.

A Harvard Business School study last year suggested that 16% of Yelp restaurant reviews are potentially fake, a figure Yelp says is misleading, as it used reviews Yelp identified as suspicious (not “fake”) to run its analysis.

The company did say last year that the study’s findings “shouldn’t come as a complete surprise,” and “as consumers increasingly turn to online reviews to find a local business, the incentive to artificially improve one’s reputation also increases, but neither should the fact that Yelp has been on guard against these very same reviews from our earliest days.”

Last fall, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that nineteen companies had agreed to stop writing fake Yelp reviews and pay over $350,000 of fines.

Yelp said at the time that it would love to work with law enforcement officials in other states to crack down on the “unethical practice” of fake review writing.

Last month, Yelp posted its financials for the fourth quarter and full year 2013. Cuumlative reviews grew 47% from the same time the previous year to 53 million, while average unique monthly visitors grew 39% to 120 million. Active local business accounts grew 69%.

Is the fake review problem getting better? Can users rely on the content they find on Yelp? Share your thoughts.

Images via Yelp

Yelp Slaps Consumer Alerts On More Pages, Renews Them On Others
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