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The Yelp Shakedown Racket

Review websites are now the primary resource when making decisions such as where to eat, where to reserve a room and where to shop. Sites and apps like TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon and of course, Yelp, are fixtures online; but there’s a growing group of the population committed to their demise—particularly Yelp—accusing the outlet of ratings manipulation and shakedown tactics to sell advertising.

Yelp, like many of the flourishing social sites, exists as a free service because of its reliance on advertising. Businesses are encouraged to augment their presence in the form of ads to boost their visibility—and the Yelp sales department has become increasingly aggressive in their attempt to fill blank space. Cold calls to local restaurants and businesses lead to guarantees of higher ratings should they decide to purchase advertising—which defeats the purpose of an aggregated review site—but also intimates the opposite should they choose to decline.

If that sounds like an online shakedown, it’s because it is—and a recent court ruling just deemed it completely legal. The Ninth Circuit Court of San Francisco ruled in favor of Yelp, creating an even wider chasm between small business owners working to gain a foothold in their market and the corporation looking to create advertising revenue.

This development brings the entire existence of Yelp into question. As a go-to resource when deciding where to spend your money, the fact that they are now legally allowed to raise or lower ratings renders it inaccurate at best, and fraudulent at worst. As a consumer, a tool like Yelp is invaluable—especially when traveling—but results-manipulation lends credence to business-owners who have long accused them of running an online-racket that affects their profit-line.

Reviews and ratings should always be taken with a grain of salt, but with the legal rubberstamping of Yelp’s right to adjust ratings based on advertising sales (or lack thereof); consumers should take heed when utilizing their service as their primary guidebook.

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