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Appeals Court Clears Yelp of Extortion Claims

timothy posted about a month and a half ago | from the 5-stars-for-marsha-berzon dept.

The Courts 63

jfruh writes A U.S. appeals court cleared Yelp of charges of extortion related to its interaction with several small businesses who claim Yelp demanded that they pay for advertising or face negative reviews. While Yelp says it never altered a business rating for money, the court's finding was instead based on a strict reading of the U.S. extortion law, classifying Yelp's behavior as, at most, "hard bargaining." Interestingly, the EFF supported Yelp here, arguing that "Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects online service providers from liability and lawsuits over user-generated content, except in very narrow circumstances where the providers created or developed content themselves. In its amicus brief, EFF argued that mere conjecture about contributing content – like there was in this case – is not enough to allow a lawsuit to go forward."

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Hey that's a nice little restaurant you have there (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47815809)

Sure wouldn't want something to happen to it.... like no customers showing up again, ever!

Re:Hey that's a nice little restaurant you have th (2)

careysub (976506) | about a month and a half ago | (#47815981)

Not extortion, no siree!

The Mob is actually a benevolent society, concerned about the well being of local businesses.

Re:Hey that's a nice little restaurant you have th (1)

roccomaglio (520780) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817327)

Do you want proactive insurance or reactive insurance? The mob sells the former. You pay to prevent something bad from happening. If you pay enough your competition might even leave town. There is the long term issue where the mob completely takes over your business. This reminds me of in the Godfather the Godfather says "A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns."

Land of the corporations (4, Insightful)

qbast (1265706) | about a month and a half ago | (#47815841)

"unless a person has a pre-existing right to be free of the threatened economic harm, threatening economic harm to induce a person to pay for a legitimate service is not extortion," appeals court judge Marsha Berzon wrote in the decision."

So apparently nobody has pre-existing right to be free of smear campaign on Yelp.

Re:Land of the corporations (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a month and a half ago | (#47815967)

Well, actually, when you put it that way, it actually makes this sound like the right ruling. They have a site that they allow negative reviews of things all the time. And if they didn't have the protection racket, they could still aggregate negative reviews legally.

So, the main problem here is that you can't trust yelp not to be a pile of lies. Paid reviewers. Paid review removals. So much conflict of interest that you have no hope of getting a genuine assessment of a business.

Re:Land of the corporations (2)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816301)

My understanding was that yelp was paying people to post negetive reviews until they got their advertising contract.

However, it appears the court (EFF) didn't understand that and thought all the reviewers were regular people and not agents of yelp.

This might not be over.

Don't try this in Europe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47815979)

In Europe those pre-existing rights (we call them Human Rights) don't get washed away simply because it's a business doing the threatening instead of a government.

PS: "2077. My time. My city. My family" is supposed to be fiction not some goal to work towards.

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

jabuzz (182671) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816607)

Think again, only the government can infringe your "Human Rights", private individuals and companies cannot.

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

almitydave (2452422) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817857)

Sure they can. What is murder but an infringement of one's right to life by a private individual?

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about a month and a half ago | (#47821871)

Pretty sure GP meant "lawfully infringe". Execution and murder are essentially the same but for legal trappings.

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817087)

Rights are created by the government / the governed.

You could say (as I do) that morality transcends human institution, but the concept of a right as something transcendental makes no sense; rights are revoked by society in the case of a crime, so theyre clearly not absolute, and they dont really exist outside of a society (what meaning is a "right" to be free in the absence of a threat to that right?).

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

qbast (1265706) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817489)

You can root concept of morality in religion as many people do. Then you have your transcendence and existence outside of society.

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month and a half ago | (#47822759)

You can root concept of morality in religion as many people do.

I do, but rights are not the same thing as morality, and are a concept that requires the existence of a government.

What sense would a "right to free speech" make in an anarchic society, for example?

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817549)

Rights are negotiated. Sometimes settled by force on the battlefield. Sometimes through pressure such as protests or boycotts. Sometimes lobbied for by corporate trade associations. Often they are set in place in order to win support for another cause. But fact remains unless somebody fought for it, it is not a right. You can claim any right you choose, but be prepared to fight for it if the powers that be don't recognize your claim.

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

almitydave (2452422) | about a month and a half ago | (#47818151)

Rights are created by the government / the governed.

You could say (as I do) that morality transcends human institution, but the concept of a right as something transcendental makes no sense; rights are revoked by society in the case of a crime, so theyre clearly not absolute, and they dont really exist outside of a society (what meaning is a "right" to be free in the absence of a threat to that right?).

The legal philosophy in the USA is laid out in the Declaration of Independence [wikipedia.org] : all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable human rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This isn't a statement about religious faith; rather that rights are inherent in the human person and not granted by any civil authority (it is a statement of belief, since you can't prove it). It's the duty of society to recognize the rights of all men and the job of government to protect them. Obviously they wouldn't matter much to one living in total isolation who never encounters another person, but that's not really a common scenario.

The downside to this model is that it doesn't create an easy way to resolve what is or is not a right, which has been the cause of much strife since the founding. Like Sentrion says [slashdot.org] , anyone can claim a right, but you have to fight for recognition. And not all claims are necessarily valid.

In practical terms, the government effectively grants rights, since we've conceptually moved from the attitude "the Constitution doesn't say the government can do that" to "the Constitution doesn't say you can do that", thus effectively limiting our freedoms to those spelled out in the Bill of Rights [wikipedia.org] .

As for criminals, we curtail their freedom because they've violated the social contract by not respecting the rights of others or as a form of group self-defense, but we do still acknowledge that they have rights. For example, prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment are based on the concept of their right to justice.

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about a month and a half ago | (#47821375)

The legal philosophy in the USA is laid out in the Declaration of Independence [wikipedia.org] : all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable human rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Ah yes, [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness]... Life? What 'right' to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What 'right' to life has a man who must die to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of 'right'? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man's right is 'unalienable'? And is it 'right'? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost. The third 'right'?—the 'pursuit of happiness'? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can 'pursue happiness' as long as my brain lives—but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can ensure that I will catch it."

--Robert A. Heinlein

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

almitydave (2452422) | about a month and a half ago | (#47829463)

The legal philosophy in the USA is laid out in the Declaration of Independence [wikipedia.org] : all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable human rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Ah yes, [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness]... Life? What 'right' to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What 'right' to life has a man who must die to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of 'right'? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man's right is 'unalienable'? And is it 'right'? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost. The third 'right'?—the 'pursuit of happiness'? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can 'pursue happiness' as long as my brain lives—but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can ensure that I will catch it."

--Robert A. Heinlein

I love Robert Heinlein, but that quote makes it look like he either doesn't understand the concept of human rights, or he's deliberately obfuscating the topic. I'll have to assume the latter.

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about a month and a half ago | (#47829675)

The legal philosophy in the USA is laid out in the Declaration of Independence [wikipedia.org] : all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable human rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Ah yes, [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness]... Life? What 'right' to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What 'right' to life has a man who must die to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of 'right'? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man's right is 'unalienable'? And is it 'right'? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost. The third 'right'?—the 'pursuit of happiness'? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can 'pursue happiness' as long as my brain lives—but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can ensure that I will catch it."

--Robert A. Heinlein

I love Robert Heinlein, but that quote makes it look like he either doesn't understand the concept of human rights, or he's deliberately obfuscating the topic. I'll have to assume the latter.

Check out the context for yourself. The quote is from Starship Troopers [7chan.org] .

It's not that Heinlein doesn't understand or is deliberately obfuscating, he's simply using a perspective different from your own, IMHO. The way I interpret Heinlein here is that rhetoric and flowery prose doesn't *give* us freedom, and that freedom is something that needs to be fought for, to get, and to retain. Read (or re-read) the novel -- I think you might learn something.

Re:Don't try this in Europe (1)

almitydave (2452422) | about a month and a half ago | (#47837309)

Check out the context for yourself. The quote is from Starship Troopers [7chan.org] .

It's not that Heinlein doesn't understand or is deliberately obfuscating, he's simply using a perspective different from your own, IMHO. The way I interpret Heinlein here is that rhetoric and flowery prose doesn't *give* us freedom, and that freedom is something that needs to be fought for, to get, and to retain. Read (or re-read) the novel -- I think you might learn something.

I read it during my formative years, and it was influential in the shaping of my political views; but that was so long ago I couldn't tell you what it said or what I liked about it (the politics part - what's not to like about powered armor?). In the given context, it's not a different perspective from my own - it's what I was saying here and elsewhere: that simply recognizing rights doesn't secure them. Out of context, that quote sounds like Heinlein doesn't even believe in the concept of rights inherent to a person, or that it's irrelevant.

What the Declaration states, and what I believe as well, is that these rights are real and exist; whether respected, trodden upon, forgotten, or codified into law; and the moral corollary that everyone has a duty to respect the rights of others; disagreeing with the assertion that rights are arbitrary, not transcendental, and can be revoked by a society. Ultimately it's a philosophical question: what's a "right", how do we get them, and how do they relate to morality in the context of society?

Re:Land of the corporations (2)

tomhath (637240) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816317)

Of course they have that right. Don't use Yelp.

Re:Land of the corporations (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817059)

The way you put it seems to reinforce the decision on first amendment grounds; you dont have a "right" that prevents me from saying bad things about your business.

But, I do feel like that changes once I start requesting money to stop doing so.

Re:Land of the corporations (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a month and a half ago | (#47819099)

So apparently nobody has pre-existing right to be free of smear campaign on Yelp.

True. Just like on Slashdot. I could post that qbast provided terrible service, and Slashdot cannot be compelled to remove it. I'm thankful for that.

Re:Land of the corporations (1)

qbast (1265706) | about a month and a half ago | (#47819327)

Have you missed the extortion part? Slashdot refusing to censor comments on my request is a bit different from Slashdot asking me to pay or they will make sure they will be lot of defamatory comments.

Re:Land of the corporations (2)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a month and a half ago | (#47820033)

Have you missed the extortion part?

Nope. It's in the article right here:

The plaintiffs lacked the factual evidence to support their claims of extortion, the appeals court said.

So there was no extortion par, which is why Yelp won the case. Yelp was not doing what the business owners claimed Yelp was doing.

Slashdot refusing to censor comments on my request is a bit different from Slashdot asking me to pay or they will make sure they will be lot of defamatory comments.

I assume by "make sure there will be a lot of defamatory comments" you are implying that they (Yelp, or Slashdot in the hypothetical) is either making the defamatory comments themselves or paying someone to do so. But there was no evidence of that.

Good... (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a month and a half ago | (#47815857)

As much as I think Yelp are a bunch of abhuman bottom feeders who would do the world a favor if they caught fire, I am pleased by this one.

Section 230 is a vital defense against a truly hellish legal climate on the internet, and I'd hate to see it be chipped away during a fight against an unsympathetic defendant.

Re:Good... (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817103)

I agree with the tone of your post, but isnt what yelp does more along the lines of "oh gee, there are negative reviews that we've encouraged; we can make them go away for money"? That seems a lot closer to extortion than "there happened to be some negative reviews out there, and we'll see if we can improve people's opinion of you for money".

Re:Good... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a month and a half ago | (#47825121)

Oh, believe me, I'd love to see some absolutely ruthless discovery through every last scrap of material that passed through Yelp's shakedown/ad sales division over the years. It'd be almost as good, and a lot more legal, than just locking their HQ and setting it on fire.

However, I just Don't Even Want To Think about how awful the internet would be without Section 230. Even by the somewhat unimpressive standards of the takedown-laden world of DMCA safe harbor, life without 230 would be a killing field.

Yelp has gone way downhill (4, Interesting)

brunes69 (86786) | about a month and a half ago | (#47815877)

Yelp used to be my go-to app for restaurant reviews when in another city, but I find the quality of content on it has gone WAY downhill with things being very stale. While on a recent vacation, on THREE separate occasions Yelp sent me to a store that was closed, some of them for months.

Personally, I have switched to the Tripadvisor app, where I find the content is much more highly curated and the community is much more active.

Re:Yelp has gone way downhill (1)

sycodon (149926) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816069)

Yep,

You have no way of knowing who is posting reviews on Yelp. Is it the business owners? Their competitors? Is it some customer who didn't get their bread sticks in time? Or, is it the crap that is alleged in the lawsuit?

Better to start with TripAdvisor. If you want REALLY good reviews, then the Michelin Guide.

Pay for no negative reviews? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47815909)

Who could even trust a company that has no bad reviews? I find it impossible for any establishment to be universally liked, even if the sample group is only people who would both go to that business and post on Yelp.

Personally, the bad reviews are where I look to find out the worst parts of a product or business, and if their worst parts aren't really so bad then I'm more likely to buy.

Re:Pay for no negative reviews? (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817769)

I've found that if a business only has three or four reviews, and the three good reviews sound like a paid testimonial and one review is very negative, I sometimes veer from doing business with that company unless there is another way to gauge their service and business practices. I've seen too many cases where positive reviews are very polished and seem to echo the company's mission and values statements instead of giving an honest assessment of the quality of their services or trustworthiness. Now if there are many more reviews I expect that possibly one in four will be less than satisfied with even a very good company. But if 10% to 25% of reviews indicate the lowest possible rating with specific warnings of things the business is doing wrong, then I may choose to look for a better company, especially if there are many posts from "satisfied" customers posting reviews that specifically try to argue against the negative reviewers. When the negative reviewers are called liars or accused of having a personal vendetta against the business, I tend to take that company off the list. Most rational satisfied customers aren't going to waste time arguing on behalf of a company even if they like doing business with them. If anything, most such customers may begin to question their own experience with the company. After all, just because they ate there twice and never got food poisoning doesn't mean that several others couldn't have been sickened on a separate occasion.

Re:Pay for no negative reviews? (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a month and a half ago | (#47820473)

Who could even trust a company that has no bad reviews? I find it impossible for any establishment to be universally liked, even if the sample group is only people who would both go to that business and post on Yelp.

Personally, the bad reviews are where I look to find out the worst parts of a product or business, and if their worst parts aren't really so bad then I'm more likely to buy.

Not only true for companies. I do a lot of shopping on Amazon. (It beats having to drive around looking for what I need.) I judge whether to buy based partly on the reviews. Of a wide range of manufacturers for a particular product, I will drop from consideration the products where many people have thoughtful, factual reviews about why the product is trash, but I will also reject the products with three or four overly glowing reviews and nothing else. You get a feeling for what astroturf sounds like.

You could probably drop the top 10% and bottom 10% of reviews for a product or service and get a fairly realistic picture from the rest.

Reviews for green monkey shoulder bag:

Five stars. I love it. This is absolutely the best bag I've ever owned -- reject.

Three stars. Very good construction and stitching, real leather, nice brass clasp. I knocked off two stars because it's not green, it's orange. And the animal is not a monkey, it's an ocelot. -- probably an accurate review.

One star because it won't allow me to give zero stars. Product smells of cat urine and exploded when I set it down. -- either a competitor or someone who's really unlucky...

The obvious solution... (4, Informative)

grasshoppa (657393) | about a month and a half ago | (#47815963)

I support a business who has been targeted by yelp, and it's not pleasant. I can't prove anything, but shortly after turning the abusive sales troll down, we started getting negative reviews. Look up the users making the reviews, and it seems they have a history of making negative reviews. What's more, most reviews were factually and demonstrably inaccurate. We couldn't find any of these users in our system, so we knew they weren't customers.

Now sure, they could have been normal trolls out to do what trolls do, but it just seemed too coincidental that they started popping up after we turned down a business relationship with yelp. Meanwhile, our customers' positive reviews would often never show up on yelp due to their algorithm.

The obvious solution to this entire headache is to dissuade family and friends from using yelp, spread the word far and wide that they are dishonest in their policies and that companies can pay for reviews. As "family IT", we have far more authority than yelp could ever hope for.

Cui bono (2)

swb (14022) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816073)

If Yelp has salespeople it's very easy to see that the salespeople have a motivation to punish businesses that don't play ball and they can do it without involving Yelp-the-company at all, by either doing it themselves or by farming it out if they worry about it getting linked back to them.

This seems to be one of those "plausible deniability" kind of rackets where the company has sales people who only get paid if they make sales and an official policy against doing something shady to obtain those sales, yet its well understood among the sales people that they should do X.

It also reminds me of the way Walmart exploits hourly workers -- the store manager is held to some financial goal. The corporation has a policy against making employees work off the clock, but it's a policy enforced at the store level by store managers. All Walmart has to do is squeeze the manager with financial targets he can only reach by ripping off employees.

Re:The obvious solution... (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816077)

most reviews were factually and demonstrably inaccurate

That's different. That's open-and-shut libel, which yelp is liable for publishing. Cheap cease and desist letters might help.
(Not a lawyer, though).

Re:The obvious solution... (2)

DRJlaw (946416) | about a month and a half ago | (#47818009)

That's different. That's open-and-shut libel, which yelp is liable for publishing.

...which yelp is not liable for publishing, since the very summary that you supposedly read points out that "Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects online service providers from liability and lawsuits over user-generated content, except in very narrow circumstances where the providers created or developed content themselves."

(Not a lawyer, though).

Which explains why your conclusion is exactly the opposite of the one required by 47 U.S.C. 230 [cornell.edu] . You'll note that the plaintiffs in this case claimed that Yelp authored or co-authored the reviews instead of merely publishing the reviews. That's because claiming Yelp was liable for simple selection and publishing would be so wrong that it'd likely draw a sanction by the court.

Re:The obvious solution... (1, Flamebait)

tapspace (2368622) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816165)

We couldn't find any of these users in our system, so we knew they weren't customers.

That is demonstrably poor reasoning. Anyone who puts their real name on yelp is an idiot.

What's more, most reviews were factually and demonstrably inaccurate.

Specious, and you've already demonstrated specious reasoning.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you sound like a bad business owner, or in this case your friend is a bad business owner. You're demonstrating the telltale signs. Bad business owners often have a difficulty accepting responsibility. Bad business owners twist the facts to support their own side (you've stated that it not possible that these reviewers were customers). Worst of all, this business has attempted to retaliate against customers (I can see little to no reason to attempt to out the Yelp reviewers if not retaliation).

I have a Yelp account, and it's not in my real name. I leave bad reviews (and good ones). You could say I have a history of making bad reviews. You could also say that this business you are talking about has a history of receiving bad reviews. Yelp is far from perfect, but in business-friendly America, it's one of the most powerful tools we as consumers have to bleed dry bad businesses and bolster good ones. If this business wants friends' reviews visible, those people need to get more active on Yelp. That's it. That's the whole filtering algorithm as best I can tell. If you create a Yelp account for one single review, you get filtered. If you write more reviews, you don't.

Re:The obvious solution... (1)

CaptainDork (3678879) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816337)

It's not at all about you, is it?

At issue is the valid concern that Yelp has compromised itself.

I think it has and I recommend that people forget about Yelp and go elsewhere for reviews.

Your post is irrelevant crap.

Re:The obvious solution... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47816361)

Completely agree about getting filtered for writing one single review. I wrote a negative review of a local restaurant (Rochester, MN area) because the experience there was so bad that it prompted me to actually create a Yelp account. That review was filtered for some time until I decided to start reviewing other businesses (particularly restaurants as my wife and I like to dine out). Once I posted other reviews, then my review of the first business showed up.

Re:The obvious solution... (3, Informative)

rgbscan (321794) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816429)

As someone with quite a bit of Yelp experience, the filter doesn't just filter out people with a single bad review, it also looks at the distribution of the sum of all the reviews on that account. Generally, over time with enough reviews, each user generally falls into a similar pattern systemwide with a pretty regular curve of rating scores distributed over the reviews. Anything deviating from that curve more than 'x' amount gets filtered (it's secret so you can't game it). It's pretty pronounced and predictable - so the sourpusses that leave nothing but bad reviews get filtered no matter how many they write. Same with the people that leave nothing but glowing reviews.

In my personal experience, the small businesses claiming that Yelp or a competitor are targeting them with bad reviews are full of it. I just go look up their BBB score and almost always see the same types of complaints against the business there. There generally is agreement between a trip advisor rating and a yelp score as well. Sometimes its hard for people to look at their operation and realize they truly do suck. You see it all the time on those reality shows called "Kitchen Disasters" or "Save my Restaurant" with that foreign chap from Hell's Kitchen. They always think they are rock stars and have no idea why their business is failing when dude shows up.

I have yet to come across a business with multiple well-written (a couple of paragraphs with concrete examples) bad reviews that were legitimately attacks and falsehoods made up by competitors. Granted it's possible, but in my multiple years as a yelper "elite" and with the ~500 or so reviews I've written, I haven't seen it. When people take the time to leave lengthy negative reviews, they are usually legit.

Re:The obvious solution... (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about a month and a half ago | (#47818179)

I have yet to come across a business with multiple well-written (a couple of paragraphs with concrete examples) bad reviews that were legitimately attacks and falsehoods made up by competitors. Granted it's possible, but in my multiple years as a yelper "elite" and with the ~500 or so reviews I've written, I haven't seen it. When people take the time to leave lengthy negative reviews, they are usually legit.

If you were to visit a prison you would find that over 90% of the prisoners shouldn't be there and don't belong there. They were innocent. Every prison I visited was the same. When I spoke to prisoners they all had sound alibis, witnesses, and other evidence that either wasn't allowed to be presented to the jury or the prosecution twisted the facts just to convict them. Many others chose to take plea deals because they knew that prosecutors were like that and would just manipulate the jury to convict them of harsher crimes. Random prisoners from separate prisons had the same story, which proves that they were telling the truth since they had no way to know each other or collaborate.

Of all the prisons that I have visited I never met one prisoner who claimed to be innocent but was actually guilty of the crime they were wrongfully convicted of.

Re:The obvious solution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47820883)

Yeah, you have a good point. One more reason to be a LOT stricter with applying prison sentences.

http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-death-row-inmates-released-mccollum-brown-20140903-story.html

Re:The obvious solution... (1)

dunkindave (1801608) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817273)

While people have an inborn desire to see their own actions as right, and therefore the actions of others that conflict with it as wrong, I think your reasoning is flawed. Grasshoppa made some statements that implied information on which he based his decision but he didn't get into the details here on Slashdot. Since he didn't provide the proof of what he said, you labeled him as engaging in "specious reasoning." I think your reasoning is where the specious comes in.

Here, let me give you some concrete examples along the same lines as what grasshoppa said. My wife's business was contacted by Yelp to solicit advertising, which my wife declined. Shortly thereafter, all of the positive reviews for her business disappeared (ALL, and there had been no negative reviews), and some negative reviews appeared. At least two of the negative reviews gave details about their interactions that would have clearly let us identify the party (not by name but by what they describe as occurring - it's a small business), but there had been no such clients, and like with grasshoppa some of the descriptions included things that don't exist at her business but based on the nature of the business could easily be assumed to by a person who had never been there. Those reviews were clearly fakes. About a month after these events (yes, it all happened in about a month), she gets another call from the Yelp salesperson pointing out the negative reviews and telling her if she advertises with them then some moderation of the reviews could be performed. We don't do business with scum so she told them no, politely. A few more negative reviews appeared, another call with the same answer, then no more reviews. Since then we have had clients tell us they have posted positive reviews and the Yelp filtering system hides them, but those fake negative reviews are still there unhidden.

Don't know about you, but the motives and tactics seem fairly straightforward to me, and the timing of events makes the likelihood of it being random trolls virtually impossible.

Re:The obvious solution... (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | about a month and a half ago | (#47820755)

Thank you; yes, you are describing exactly what we saw, and continue to see. The business name is an amalgam of the owners, but one of the owners is never out at one of our remote locations, and never has been. Never the less, we have multiple bad reviews bad mouthing that provider, talking about treatment that we don't handle at any of our locations.

It's a shady operation, pure and simple. The more people that I can make aware of that, the better.

No blackmail here definitely not! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47816045)

Nice business you got there.

Sure would be a shame if a load of negative reviews on our website cost you all your customers.

For a perfectly reasonable fee, we can protect you from that. Whaddayasay?

Re:No blackmail here definitely not! (1)

tomhath (637240) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816339)

I say put the word out that Yelp reviews don't mean anything. Let them self-destruct.

Re:No blackmail here definitely not! (1)

dunkindave (1801608) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817461)

Most people facing the pointy end of the stick already know about Yelp and its cousins, but the majority of the remainder don't, i.e. the sheep. The problem for businesses is for most business types the sheep don't have any good information sources, and even if they know about Yelp's flaws, see the bad choices as better than nothing. After all, some, maybe even all, of the reviews are real, right?

Re:No blackmail here definitely not! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47817553)

Or to quote Canada Bill Jones when asked why we was gambling at a place he knew was cheating him: "I know it's crooked, but it's the only game in town."

Re:No blackmail here definitely not! (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about a month and a half ago | (#47818253)

YELP - if you are reading this - please note that for a reasonable fee I can use my skills in assigning mod points to improve how readers of Slashdot perceive you.

It's yelp's "recommended reviews" (4, Insightful)

HockeyPuck (141947) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816115)

My neighbor runs a small mom/pop type restaurant and he gets called about once a month by a yelp representative. He's got plenty of positive reviews on Yelp, but what they tell him is that if he pays yelp, they'll move the negative ones to the "not recommended reviews" list. Normally the only way to see this list is to scroll to the bottom and see a light grey link.

How is this any different from what the mafia did with it's "Pay for protection" schemes...?

Re:It's yelp's "recommended reviews" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47816699)

How is this any different from what the mafia did with it's "Pay for protection" schemes...?

It's a threat to commit libel. Since libel is nearly unenforceable except when the victim is a unknown individual who was economically or physically harmed in a way that they can prove was the intent of the liar, there is no relevant enforcement. Yes, simply having a company name means you are no longer legally protected against libel and slander.
So, since it is a threat to commit an act that there is no legal recourse against, there is no legal recourse against the threat. It is like if I found you on a sidewalk and threatened to make a rude gesture at you accompanied by a vulgar statement indicating your sexual attraction to farm animals. It doesn't mean you have to like me after making such a threat, and you are entirely within your rights to respond similarly, but the legal system has no grounds for interfering in such a contest of words.

Re:It's yelp's "recommended reviews" (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816865)

How is this any different from what the mafia did with it's "Pay for protection" schemes...?

Users post bad reviews, Yelp is offering to hide them, i.e. protection from Yelp users. The mafia sent goons to smash places up, or rather the protection they were offering was from themselves.

It's a subtle distinction because Yelp does little to vet reviews, so is basically allowing rivals to use their platform to attack your business. Apparently this distinction is enough though.

Re:It's yelp's "recommended reviews" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47817035)

That is almost a far worse thing!

This is more like the Mafia telling all your enemies where you live and how to damage you in the worst way possible: reputation.
Then they can just sit back and relax while watching the shitstorm.

Re:It's yelp's "recommended reviews" (1)

tompaulco (629533) | about a month and a half ago | (#47817653)

So it's an offer of conspiracy to destroy evidence. Whoever pays the most money gets the most negative reviews hidden. Once starting down this road, there is no logical end. If your competitor pays more money, they may unhide some of your negative reviews. You can compensate somewhat by doing better business and not having as many negative reviews. But let's face it, no matter how good a job you do, there is always a few customers who are bound and determined to be unhappy.

Re:It's yelp's "recommended reviews" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47818311)

The Mafia generally didn't threaten children like Yelp does. They made my daughter cry when they claimed she would be homeless if my business's 1 star rating wasn't improved. After yelling at them for threatening her, they removed me completely from their search ratings, and she did almost end-up homeless. If their common practise of threatening and yelling at children isn't extortion, then I don't know what is.

Re:It's yelp's "recommended reviews" (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a month and a half ago | (#47819083)

What is different is that the Mafia was charging for protection, but they were also the ones perpetrating the crime. Yelp is not writing the negative reviews. The real issue here is that Yelp offers the ability to remove the negative reviews at all. Not that they charge for them.

If they don't change this (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816161)

If they don't change this, I'll give the US legal system a bad review

Re:If they don't change this (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about a month and a half ago | (#47816407)

1 star: did not fix my problem after two calls, would not use again.

So much stale data (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47816521)

Despite repeated contact, they still list several places in my town as open when they are permanently closed. In one case, the building is ever gone. Yelp just isn't as useful as it used to be.

Re:So much stale data (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about a month and a half ago | (#47818475)

Tired of seeing disparaging comments on Slashdot about your online review site? Reply to SENTRION to learn how to buy MOD points that can be used to improve your perception among Slashdot readers. Do it today!

Probably, it's just lying salesdrones. (1)

SvnLyrBrto (62138) | about a month and a half ago | (#47819323)

A friend of mine used to work at Yelp When he did, I asked him about this. (Accusations of cooked yelp reviews are far from a recent development.) For whatever itâ(TM)s worth⦠but I have no reason to suspect he was lying to me⦠he told me that sales and operations absolutely ARE firewalled from each other, that by no means do the sales types have the necessary administrative or database access to adjust a business' ratings, and that theyâ(TM)re not the sharpest tools in the shed anyway and probably wouldnâ(TM)t understand how to use said access if they had it.

He also told me, though, that their sales department was one of the slimiest bunch of lying scumbags heâ(TM)d ever encountered; and he wouldnâ(TM)t doubt for a moment that they were TELLING businesses that they could have their ratings adjusted if they bought ads.

Re: Probably, it's just lying salesdrones. (1)

SvnLyrBrto (62138) | about a month and a half ago | (#47819365)

WTFH Slashdot!?!? Better part of two decades along, and you STILL choke on apostrophes and ellipses???

Seriously, WTF?

Define "user-generated content" (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a month and a half ago | (#47820125)

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects online service providers from liability and lawsuits over user-generated content, except in very narrow circumstances where the providers created or developed content themselves.

Should that protection apply if Yelp charges to remove negative reviews? At that point, it the site still user-generated content? Suppose there were 1000 anonymous monkeys adding negative reviews of Slashdot, and positive reviews of Slashdot. Then Yelp charges Slashdot to remove the negative reviews. Can Yelp still claim that the site is nothing but user generated content? That's a slippery slope...

Imagine that Yelp merely took the sentences from people's reviews, and charged to remove the negative sentences. Can they claim protection then? What if they selectively removed letters and rearranged the words to form different reviews? Is that user generated content? It seems to me that they crossed the line by charging to remove reviews, and they should not be protected.

Yelp would still have won today, since the basis was that there was no evidence against them, only suspicion.

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