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FTC Complaints About Yelp Allege Extortion, Libel, More

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Photo: Michael Dorausch

A Freedom of Information act request filed with the FTC has resulted in the release of nearly 700 complaints against Yelp over the past four years. The FTC blocked any identifying information from coming through, so it's unclear who filed these complaints. What is clear? Plenty of restaurant owners are really, really, really mad at Yelp. Restaurants filed complaints accusing the company of filtering out positive reviews (thus skewing their ratings), of harassing them to buy advertising, of refusing to pull libelous reviews, and a whole lot more.

Among the most common complaints were accusations that Yelp filters out positive reviews and allows negative ones through, particularly if the restaurant in question has refused to purchase advertising. Some even say sales reps promised negative reviews would disappear if the restaurant owner purchased advertising. (Do keep in mind that the FTC has not verified any of these complaints.) Other complaints include sales people who refuse to stop calling when asked, incorrect information on Yelp pages (including pages that say businesses have closed when they are still in business), and claims that Yelp refused to pull "libelous" reviews (the definition of libel changes per complaint).

But never fear, restaurant owners: Yelp doesn't dish out what it can't take. Do feel free to review Yelp itself on it's very own Yelp page. (They currently have three out of five stars because "Yelp is a home for trolls, run by trolls.") Below, some of the better quotes from the FTC complaints that specifically reference restaurants.

From the FOI Request For FTC Complaints Against Yelp

· "What yelp does is that they prey on restaurants with bad bogus reviews."

· "I am very afraid of this company because they have the power to make any restaurant go out of business."

· "Consumer states that [Yelp] told him to pay 300.00 for a "membership" that would give him more positive reviews. Consumer noticed that a couple of positive reviews popped up immeadiately after paying the money."

· "Although the site cites that disclosing those [filtering] criteria will allow circumventing their built-in checks and balances, in practice it gives them a complete power to manipulate the ratings of any business."

· "The site constantly and relentlessly filters out the good and excellent reviews displaying less positive reviews causing the rating to downgrade."

· "Suffice it to say that their programs are expensive, require at least a year of commitment and have unclear benefits beyond the possible return of the wrongfully filtered out reviews."

· "We asked yelp please take all our business info we do not want to be on yelp. The yelp said sorry."

· "They ask for money to post the positive reviews. Pure extortion. We do not have an option to be listed on their website and that is bad enough but to have them actually decide on how your business is rated and profiled is not a fair business practice."

· "Bottom line is they don't care about the validity of their reviews which is ironic since their motto is Real Reviews. Real People."

· FTC Complaints for www.yelp.com [MuckRock]
· Businesses: 'Yelp Is the Thug of the Internet' [MuckRock via @luxliquidus]
· All Yelp Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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