Yelp Cracks Down on Fake Reviews
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Online review site Yelp has conducted a sting operation to catch a “few bad apples” that buy fake reviews from established reviewers on the site. As Yelp users rate everything from plumbers to restaurants, the company is moving to protect its own name.
Undercover Yelp workers went onto Craigslist to sell positive reviews. A handful of businesses that took the bait now have an embarrassing red-framed box on their Yelp page. It reads, “we caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews.”
John Breyault, an e-commerce expert with the National Consumers League, calls Yelp's crackdown overdue, given how much people rely on crowd-sourced reviews to make buying decisions.
"The wisdom of the crowds is one place that review sites really take advantage of and it really benefits consumers,” says Breyault. “It's increasingly a way that consumers are taking power back."
Online game companies regularly reward players for writing any review, good or bad. Breyault says Yelp, which makes money by selling ads to businesses, has to be careful to not discourage reviews.
While it's one thing to ensure authenticity, Breyault warns, "It's another thing if you try and entrap a company in order to extort, let's say, more advertising revenue out of it."
In a 2010 class actiion lawsuit, business owners charged Yelp with running an extortion scheme that demanded payment for removing negative reviews. The suit was dismissed.
Yelp put up a blog post to announce its enforcement measures: "The allure of a page full of five-star reviews can turn even the most ethical business owner starry-eyed and persuade some to attempt to game the system by paying for reviews. This pretty much breaks every rule in the book, not to mention it’s just wrong to mislead consumers with fake reviews."
The red consumer alert box will stay on a culprit's site for 90 days.