In response to increasing criticism from small businesses dissatisfied with Yelp’s review practices — including a class action lawsuit and widespread “conspiracy theories” — the community ratings and review site has made some changes.
Moving toward a more transparent platform after accusations of “extorting” ad revenue from businesses in exchange for positive reviews — or the absence of negative reviews — Yelp rolled out the new policies on Tuesday. Readers can now follow a link to find reviews that were filtered out through Yelp’s automated system, and they will no longer see the “Favorite Review” feature that was part of Yelp’s advertising package for the past four years.
“I hope that these changes will debunk some of the myths and conspiracy theories out there about Yelp and its advertising and whether those are linked,” said the company’s co-founder and CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman.
The lawsuit, filed by an Illinois bakery and a California veterinary clinic, has been at the the heart of the controversy but many other businesses were reportedly accusing Yelp of posting biased reviews based on which companies were buying advertising from sometimes threatening-sounding salespeople. Yelp has denied any wrongdoing, and Stoppelman has said the complaints are indicative of the challenges faced in reviewing and rating local companies that are in fierce competition with one another.
Starting today, people can see the reviews that have been filtered from the site and make their own judgments about any biases toward advertisers. The advertisers, meanwhile, will no longer have control over which reviews appear first on their pages. If the accusations are true, we can also assume that Yelp’s sales staff will be proceeding with a softer touch than what’s been reported in recent months.