Yelp (NYSE: YELP), a website and mobile app that publishes crowd-sourced reviews to connect people with great local businesses, claims to have over 120 million reviews of businesses worldwide. With such a large number of reviews, and the influence those reviews have on consumers’ buying decisions, Yelp has its share of run-ins with individuals and small businesses writing fake online reviews.
But, the California-based online reviews company has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to shady business behavior on its platform. As part of its larger Consumer Protection Initiative, Yelp has a less publicized Consumer Alert program that punishes businesses caught manipulating reviews and ratings.
Yelp Consumer Alerts Program
Yelp’s Consumer Alert program places a clear alert message on a business’s profile page on the site when it determines that business has made significant efforts to mislead consumers with fake reviews. Yelp consumer alerts inform people that the online review company has detected extreme attempts to purchase fake reviews or manipulate ratings for certain businesses. And the program’s team of “detectives” adds a link to relevant evidence.
Consumer Alert on a business page on Yelp.
“Yelp has become so influential in the consumer decision making process that some businesses will go to extreme lengths to bolster their reviews,” said Eric Singley, vice president of consumer products and mobile, Yelp, in a press release announcing the program launch back in October of 2012. “While our filter already does a great job of highlighting the most useful content, we think consumers have a right to know when someone is going to great lengths to mislead them.”
In the past, the Yelp Consumer Alerts program team says it has alerted consumers to dishonest behavior by medical spas, urgent care facilities, dentists, physicians and more — exactly the types of businesses that consumers shouldn’t have to second guess. In some of these cases, Yelp has gone ahead and sued firms accused of manipulating reviews, including suing a law firm (no less) for faking its own reviews.
Plight of Business Flagged for Review Manipulation
A business flagged for bogus reviews in this manner can suffer irreparable damage to its reputation and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in lost revenue. A SEO company busted for posting over 800 fake reviews online between 2014 and 2015 in the U.K. had its reputation seriously damaged. And in the U.S., 19 companies identified by the New York state attorney general’s office as manipulating different review sites including Yelp were forced to pay more than $350,000 in fines.
Small businesses threatening to sue customers who post negative reviews about them can also find themselves in trouble. Yelp also places the so-called Consumer Alerts on Yelp review pages of businesses that make legal threats against customers that post reviews on the site.
Last year, Prestigious Pets, a Dallas pet-sitting service, filed a law suit against a couple who wrote a negative review criticizing the business demanding damages of between $200,000 and $1 million. Yelp consequently placed the increasingly infamous Consumer Alert on Prestigious Pets’ Yelp page.
Consumer Alert on Prestigious Pets’ Yelp page.
“Consumers have the right to share their opinions about their experiences with businesses, but there will always be a small handful of businesses who mistakenly think it’s a good idea to threaten consumers who exercise their free speech rights,” Yelp explains on its official company blog.
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