FTC Has Seen 2,046 Complaints About Yelp In Recent Years

Chris CrumBusiness35 Comments

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The FTC disclosed this week that there have been 2,046 complaints filed against Yelp dating from 2008 to March 4th, 2014. While that may seem like a lot, it's not incredibly shocking given that we see businesses complaining informally about the site pretty much every week.

Has your experience with Yelp been positive or negative? Let us know in the comments.

Businesses often vent their frustration in article comments and elsewhere on the Internet, as well as at Yelp's own events. They often blame the site for major losses in business, and sometimes suggest that the site is holding their positive reviews hostage when they refuse to advertise.

The FTC's disclosure was in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Wall Street Journal. They sent reporter Angus Loten the complaints (most of them at least). He writes:

Most of the complaints are from small businesses that claim to have received unfair or fraudulent reviews, often after turning down a pitch to advertise on the site, according to a separate spreadsheet of complaints to the FTC about Yelp, reviewed exclusively by the Journal. For instance, a business owner in Montclair, N.J., whose name was redacted said: "I was contacted by a Yelp salesperson to advertise, which I declined, and since have only had negative posts on their site."

Obviously Yelp has always denied that there is any relationship between advertising and reviews.

Earlier this year, The Court of Appeals of Virginia ordered Yelp to reveal the names of seven reviewers who left anonymous, negative reviews on a business - Hadeed Carpet - which says the names are critical in pursuing a defamation case against the reviewers over what it claims were false reviews from non-customers. Yelp has reportedly been held in contempt for not revealing the names.

As Loten reports, the case is headed to the Virginia Supreme Court this month. He writes that the business lost millions in revenue after the negative reviews, and had to get rid of 80 workers and sell six trucks.

Another interesting stat to come out of the report is that Yelp receives roughly six subpoenas a month, sometimes looking to get names of anonymous users.

Two months ago, another defamation case in Virginia saw an outcome in which neither party truly won. Ultimately the court decided that the two had defamed each other.

Earlier this week, we looked at a video Yelp released recently, featuring a montage of media personalities talking about and referencing Yelp:

They left out the People's Court episode in which a business owner made claims that Yelp was prioritizing negative reviews against his company over the higher quantity of positive reviews. Yelp, he said, then contacted him, and said that if he advertised, his negative reviews would get filtered out.

Judge Milian responded, “Wow! I don’t know if what you’re saying is accurate or not, but if it is, it’s pretty outrageous.”

David Lazarus at the LA Times wrote an article five years ago asking if Yelp is a "shakedown racket for merchants," saying that restaurant owners were saying it was "unusually aggressive in trying to get businesses to pay hundreds of dollars in monthly "sponsorship" fees to improve their ranking in search results and to move their most positive review to the top of the page."

Lazarus wrote another article this week talking about yet another business making those familiar "extortion" claims.

"Yelp just can't stop living the thug life," the article begins.

None of these accusations have actually been proven so far, but there have been so many for so long, it's hard to completely brush them off.

Either way, Yelp continues to push on with impressive financials and statistics.

Last month, the company put out a video and blog post explaining why businesses should advertise on Yelp. It didn't mention anything about negative review filtering.

Do you believe complaints against Yelp are legitimate or is it all nonsense as Yelp suggests? Let us know what you think.

Image via Yelp (Flickr)

Chris Crum

Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

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