Does that terrible restaurant review you just read on Yelp really reflect bad food and service or is it part of a deep-seeded online protection scam run by the website? It turns out that legally the answer to that question does not matter a bit.
Earlier this week, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Yelp’s favor in a class-action lawsuit that alleged that the reviewing giant removed positive comments and added fictitious negative ones for businesses that refused to pay advertising fees. While the idea that Yelp could effectively say to a business, “Nice positive reviews you got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to them,” might sound like extortion, it is not, according to the judge. As Forbes points out, included in the decision are two important points: “Removing positive reviews wasn’t extortion because Yelp didn’t have to publish those reviews at all,” and “Publishing or showcasing negative reviews wasn’t extortion because Yelp has the legal right ‘to post and sequence the reviews.’”
In the most plain of non-legal terms, the ruling essentially says, “It’s Yelp’s site. They can do what they want.” Simply removing reviews or changing the order doesn’t inherently constitute trying to extort money from business owners.
For its part Yelp continues to deny that it engages in any conspiratorial or unethical practices. And though those practices, even if they occurred, didn't bear on the legal questions before the court, the judge believes Yelp, saying that the plaintiffs did not present any “plausible” evidence that negative reviews were written by anyone other than an unsatisfied customer.
If the plaintiffs are unsatisfied they can write a negative review of the court though. Right now it’s got four and a half stars.