Can Yelp Change My Restaurant’s Rating?

Originally Published : November 12, 2014

Last month, a federal court in California decided that Yelp can change user reviews on its site to affect a business’s rating.  Several small business owners complained that Yelp tried to extort advertising dollars from them by lowering their business’s rating on the popular website (e.g., from 5 stars down to 3) because they didn’t advertise with Yelp.  They claimed that after refusing to pay,  Yelp employees removed positive reviews, brought back negative reviews or moved them above positive reviews, and even went so far as to write their own negative reviews — all of which caused these owners to lose revenue.

According to the court, such manipulation by Yelp is not extortion because Yelp has a right to the reviews that appear on its website.  There is no law that requires Yelp to publish positive reviews, or stops Yelp from reposting, or rearranging, negative reviews.  The court may have thought differently if these owners had contracts with Yelp that said, for instance, Yelp must publish positive reviews, but they did not.  Instead of extortion, the court considered Yelp’s alleged actions to be nothing more than bargaining.

Since it’s impossible to avoid being listed on Yelp, you should prepare to do some bargaining of your own before deciding whether or not to advertise on the site.  If you’ve been contacted by Yelp, call us today to discuss your options and have one of our corporate attorneys review the proposed contract.