Yelp Lawsuit Grows to Include Sofa Outlet, Some Actual Restaurants

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Yelp, the online review site that lets any old jackass with fingers and an internet connection say whatever they want about all sorts of businesses (restaurants in particular), is back in the news again as the coming class action lawsuit against it continues to grow.

As reported today by Chuck Strouse in the Miami New Times "Short Order" blog, nine new companies have jumped aboard the class action train, currently being driven by Miami attorney Jared Beck. They include a veterinarian, an appliance repair service and (surprise, surprise) several restaurants. The charge? That Yelp is allegedly extorting money out of businesses by strong-arming them into buying ads in exchange for removing or burying bad reviews posted either by pissed off actual customers or, in some cases, adding bad reviews to the listings of businesses that won't pay.

As Strouse reports, "The new plaintiffs are located everywhere from Tujunga, California to Washington, D.C. They include businesses ranging from a sofa outlet to a bakery to the heart of Yelp's business, several restaurants. All allege that Yelp, a website that purports to offer public reviews of all kinds of concerns, engaged in extortion by attempting to sell them ads and offering to erase bad reviews in exchange. In some cases, negative reviews were even added -- and strong-arm techniques were employed, the plaintiffs say. 'Since filing the complaint we have been inundated with calls and emails from small businesses around the country,' says Jared Beck, the Miami attorney representing the plaintiffs. 'Many of them asked us what they can do to actively stand up and join the fight against Yelp.'"

This complaint is nothing new. For years, restaurateurs have been complaining about the way that Yelp allows anyone and everyone to say whatever they want about their businesses, with no sort of editorial oversight or set of standards. There's nothing to stop rival restaurant owners from going on Yelp and trashing their competition (save common decency, of course), nothing to stop someone with a vendetta from targeting a restaurant he hates and giving them the virtual beat-down, no appeal or correction policy in place whereby a restaurateur can get a specific review removed.

Well, no policy that doesn't border on a digital protection racket, anyway...

As for the other side in this dispute, Yelp has insisted that this lawsuit is a bunch of hooey--but has brought on some lawyers of its own, just in case, vowing to fight back aggressively. My guess? Lawyer Jared Beck is about to get some scathing "reviews" posted about him on the Miami Yelp page...

 
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