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Court says Yelp doesn’t extort users, can manipulate reviews and ratings




The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Yelp does not extort its businesses after plaintiffs alleged in 2010 that the company extorted them to buy advertising by manufacturing and manipulating reviews and ratings on the site.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Yelp does not extort its businesses after plaintiffs alleged in 2010 that the company extorted them to buy advertising by manufacturing and manipulating reviews and ratings on the site.
Steve Rhodes via Flickr Creative Commons

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Yelp does not extort businesses. The years-long case goes back to 2010, with plaintiffs alleging that Yelp extorted them to buy advertising by manufacturing and manipulating reviews and ratings on the site.

The court ruled in favor of the restaurant reviews site, saying that the case didn’t adequately allege extortion: Yelp did not directly threaten businesses that did not buy advertising with economic harm, removing positive reviews is allowed because Yelp doesn’t have to publish any reviews at all, and featuring negative reviews is fair game because Yelp retains a legal right to “post and sequence the reviews.” The court also determined that there was insufficient evidence that Yelp generated non-user reviews. Though Yelp has said that they don’t manipulate ratings or reviews, the ruling is a big win for consumer review websites across the board. These sites are frequently accused of extortion, and the court’s decision that the sites do have the to change, delete, and sequence reviews in any way (even if they don’t) without committing extortion may stop future claims.

Even if it doesn’t qualify as extortion, should Yelp have the right to manipulate reviews and ratings? Do businesses have a “right” to good reviews on consumer reviews sites? How might this case progress?

Guest:

Vince Sollitto, Yelp's VP of corporate communications and government affairs