The Yelp Mafia

The Yelp Mafia

Summary: Is today Fraud Thursday or something? Did I miss the email?

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Is today Fraud Thursday or something? Did I miss the email?

One of my favorite iPhone apps (and Web site) is Yelp, the free, San Francisco-based business (mostly restaurant) review guide. Not only is Yelp its own standalone app, but its reviews are also integrated into several other iPhone apps.

The East Bay Express reports that Yelp's integrity has been compromised. Actually, no. They take it step further and accuse Yelp of extortion and compare it to the Mafia. It appears that some San Francisco-based business owners were contacted by Yelp with offers to hide negative customer reviews – for a price. If they agreed to advertise on the site, Yelp staffers promised to "do something" about the negative reviews.

During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, six people told this newspaper that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise. In another six instances, positive reviews disappeared — or negative ones appeared — after owners declined to advertise.

And it gets worse.

Some businesses who declined Yelp's "offer" to advertise noticed new negative reviews of their business appearing on the service. So they're not only deleting bad reviews for money, they appear to be adding negative reviews to businesses that decline to advertise. Welcome to the age of digital extortion.

There goes another app from my iPhone (along with WHERE, which uses Yelp reviews).

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13 comments
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  • major doubts

    After having written several opinionated and truthful Yelps that were not complimentary and having been contacted by business owners to somehow go back in time and change my experience to a good one, I have more trust in Yelp than I would in the six unnamed SF businesses.
    John Pruitt
    • Second those doubts...

      Has any independent investigator attempted to confirm the claim that Yelp is offering to bury bad reviews for money? It would seem to be a simple matter to call them up and ask "what can I do about these negative reviews?" At this point there is not enough information to tell which side of the story to believe.
      hmoulding@...
  • ZDNET Mafia

    Well if this is true, why don't we all review the yelp app negatively in the app store. That'll teach them a lesson.
    ~Obelix~
  • RE: The Yelp Mafia

    I have always heard about these shady stories and this
    is a confirmation of Yelp's bad practices.

    Here is a free alternative to Yelp for local
    businesses: www.rateitall.com/promote
    RaulLupez
    • You miss the Point

      Assuming just for a moment that it is true, i.e. that Yelp really does take bribes to bury bad reviews, what is there to keep www.rateitall.com from doing the same thing?

      The real problem here is with the basic concept: how do you keep ANY such review site honest? The business model just does [b]NOT[/b] encourage sustained honesty. Not on the part of the people who run it, not even on the part of the reviewers themselves.

      I have seen Yelp reviews written by reviewers who were themselves "ethically challenged"!
      mejohnsn
  • RE: The Yelp Mafia

    Yelp has seemed pretty accurate and useful to me so
    far...
    ThomBombadil
  • RE: The Yelp Mafia

    I have done plenty of Yelp reviews ,with never a glitch.
    If they were ever to bury a bad review,I have yet to see it.
    pgm554
    • Same here

      I have never had a problem with my Yelp reviews
      either. I have had owners contact me plenty of
      times to tell me I must be wrong about my
      experience.

      Seems to me that there are a lot of unnamed
      sources in the article. Still, there's nothing
      like believing everything you read.
      sarahbb
      • But are you Looking?

        And are you looking in the right place? Nobody ever claimed that all bad reviews get buried. Your method of 'looking' will probably not notice one unless [b]most[/b] bad reviews get buried.

        But this is not likely to be the case.

        It is hard to determine the truth-value of these accusations. Certainly the author of the ZDNet article hasn't done enough work on it. But all these "me too" posts that either confirm or deny him, you guys haven't provided even a hint of doing your own homework!
        mejohnsn
  • Yelp Extortion Not New

    http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20081117/NEWS/811170304
    NSM
    • Not 'Extortion'

      The Press Democrat article does [b]not[/b] describe 'extortion'. What it describes is closer to bribery, but it isn't even that, either. It sounds rather like ignorant telemarketers making promises they cannot keep.
      mejohnsn
  • RE: The Yelp Mafia

    The article starts expessing disbelief, but ends expressing belief that Yelp really is practicing extortion.

    I hope the initial disbelief is correct, because I find Yelp a handy way to get back at restaurants/vendors that cheat the buying public.
    mejohnsn
  • RE: The Yelp Mafia

    YELP in HELL!
    We pray YELP goes bankrupt and sinks to the bottom of hell, and takes its MAFIA YELPERS with them. We pray that GOD shows no mercy for all the damage and EXTORTION they have inflicted upon small business owners and the children they support. YELP is a den of snakes and deserve to BURN for the lies and slander they spread on the web.
    PRAY PSALMS 140 FOR THEIR DESTRUCTION!

    Say 5 times "Archangel Gabriel destroy YELP now!"
    jehova140