A group of businesses has filed a third amended complaint against the business review site Yelp, claiming that the defendant offered to hide bad reviews if the plaintiffs purchased advertising on the site.
The plaintiffs – the operators of a furniture restoration company, dental practice, veterinary clinic, and a body shop – claim that they were subject to “extortion and/or attempted extortion” by Yelp employees to obtain payments for advertising.
The suit seeks to certify two separate classes of plaintiffs: those that purchased advertising and those that did not. Representative of those that did not, plaintiff Boris Levitt, owner of Renaissance Furniture Restoration, claims that he was called twice by a Yelp sales rep who wanted him to purchase advertising on the site. When he was contacted by the representative, he had an overall rating of 4.5 stars; two days after he declined to purchase advertising, his overall rating dropped to 3.5 stars and he received fewer page views. According to the complaint, his business suffered accordingly. “Yelp manipulated the reviews of Levitt’s business because he did not purchase advertising as a threat and with the intent to instill fear in Levitt that he needed to purchase advertising to avoid a further decrease in the positive reviews posted about his business.”
Dr. Tracy Chan, DDS, the named plaintiff for those who purchased advertising, asserted that she paid for advertising on Yelp for her California-based dental practice, but claims Yelp removed nine 5-star reviews from her page and dropped her overall star rating from 5 stars to 3 stars after she stopped purchasing ads.
“As a result, and out of fear of further manipulations, Chan felt compelled to sign up for advertising on Yelp so that Yelp would reinstate the positive reviews,” according to the complaint.
The suit was filed in California federal court.
To read the complaint in Levitt v. Yelp, click here.
Why it matters: Yelp responded to a previous suit by releasing a statement that it plans to fight the claims. “The allegations are demonstrably false, since many businesses that advertise on Yelp have both negative and positive reviews,” the company said. Although prior complaints against the company were dismissed earlier this year, the plaintiffs have continued to amend their claims and pursue the litigation.