Businesses call bias on Yelp listings

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TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: You may know Yelp.com is an influential site for customer reviews, from restaurants to doctors. Well a group of small businesses are accusing Yelp of a shakedown. Some claim the site emphasizes negative reviews unless the businesses agree to pay for advertising. Here's Marketplace's senior business correspondent, Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: At first, California businessman Barry Hyde says he liked the idea behind Yelp.com:

Barry Hyde: I think the model has a lot of merit, which is why I told customers to go there.

Hyde's car-repair shop was getting mostly positive online reviews. But then, he says, he got a telephone sales pitch from Yelp, suggesting that for a price, he could move his favorite reviews to the top of the list. When he declined, he claims, some glowing reviews that he was keeping track of began to vanish:

HYDE: I have approximately 13 to 15 five-star reviews that aren't showing up on my listing.

Yelp has an explanation for that, in a video on its Web site:

YELP VIDEO: Giving people what they want is a complicated process. If you use Yelp a lot, you have to know that not every real, honest-to-goodness review makes it onto a business page.

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has blamed what he termed a "weird" automated system that filters out certain reviews, based on criteria he didn't detail. Yelp's recently posted video explains the algorithm this way:

YELP VIDEO: It takes the reviews that are the most trustworthy and from the most established sources, and displays them on the business page. This keeps less trustworthy reviews out.

It's not clear what makes a review "trustworthy," but Yelp says there's a line between the reviews and its sales team -- quote -- "like the separation of Church and State."

Hyde, who owns M&M Auto Werkes near San Jose, wonders why he was told -- he says -- that some missing reviews could show up again for a price:

Hyde: I think that if you're putting a Web site up that's reflecting peoples' opinions of businesses, that all those opinions should be allow to be heard, and they shouldn't be leveraged to advertise with them to make sure they stay there.

Hyde says that's unethical, and he's been talking to one of the lawyers seeking class-action status in the legal challenge against Yelp.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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