Checking out the experiences of past patrons is a great way of weighing up where you’re going to eat next — but can those glowing five-star reviews always be trusted? Yelp has filed a lawsuit against the operators of YelpDirector, which it claims is promising to keep bad reviews conveniently out of sight when visitors browse through a Yelp listing.
Trademark infringement, unfair competition, cybersquatting, contract interference and false advertising are the main accusations levelled at YelpDirector and a couple of linked businesses run by the same team, according to Consumerist. Yelp says the firm tells its clients it can promote the best four and five-star reviews without actually having any access to the Yelp system or any power to do so.
The lawsuit filed in California claims that gift cards are being used as enticements to leave positive reviews, while the companies also stand accused of using the Yelp logo in their marketing and promotional materials. It’s not clear whether YelpDirector and the linked companies Revpley and Revleap ever succeeded in their attempts to game the Yelp system.
“Today we’re taking a stand to protect business owners from falling prey to these misleading companies,” writes Yelp’s Vince Sollitto in an official blog post, saying that the practice is “the sort of thing that can put small businesses at risk” both financially and legally. Sollitto warns firms to watch out for anyone who claims to be able to manage their Yelp reputation.
The moral of the story seems to be that you should by all means consult Yelp the next time you’re heading out, but use your own judgment as well — last year Yelp itself stood accused of manipulating review rankings based on the amount of advertising a business bought, a claim that was rejected by a Ninth circuit appeals court.