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Yelp Accuses Google of Stealing Its Content Again

One of food tech’s all-time greatest feuds heats up

A tablet displaying Yelp’s homepage Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

The ongoing Yelp vs. Google battle continues: Once again, the user-generated review site is accusing the search behemoth of scraping content off Yelp, mainly photos, to use in the search results it offers Googlers. The practice is in direct violation of a 2013 regulatory settlement between Google and other companies, which stemmed from a 2012 complaint filed by Yelp with the Federal Trade Commission. At the time, Yelp’s argument focused on two major points: that Google unfairly used other sites’ content in order to better its own products (like Google Places and search results), and excluded competitor results in a “search bias.” The settlement — which saw Google agreeing to stop scraping other sites’ content if they chose to opt out — was called by some a mere “slap on the wrist.”

And according to Yelp, Google’s at it again. The Wall Street Journal reports a recent internal investigation found that “over one hour, Google pulled images from Yelp’s servers nearly 386,000 times for business listings in Google Maps.” In other words, Googling a restaurant might still result in several Yelp-owned images popping up.

“This is a flagrant violation of Google’s promises to the FTC,” Yelp’s public policy chief Luther Lowe said in a letter of complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, “and the FTC should reopen the Google case immediately.”

Google critics — Yelp among the loudest — argue that it’s a pattern of behavior. In 2014, Yelp again accused Google of prioritizing its own search results, even in user searches that included the word “Yelp.” Similar accusations, from Yelp and other companies, arose again in 2015; in one instance, Google blamed a bug for results that buried Yelp results.

The public feud between the two companies began in earnest in 2009, after Google failed to acquire Yelp; Google later snatched up the review site Zagat, which it attempted to integrate into Google+ (with varying results). Once Zagat was in the picture, Yelp began arguing that search results were giving priority to Zagat listings; as recently as August of last year, they had yet another example that could act as ammunition.

Elsewhere, regulators seem to agree. Earlier this year, the European Union fined Google a record-breaking $2.7 billion, ruling that its “search bias” was indeed giving Google an unfair advantage.

Google Rival Yelp Claims Search Giant Broke Promise Made to Regulators [WSJ]
All Yelp Coverage [E]