Less than two months after a federal class-action lawsuit was filed against Yelp, the San Francisco-based user review site has decided to change its policies. Effective yesterday, the site will now show all reviews about a business, including those previously suppressed by its algorithm, and will no longer allow advertisers to highlight a favorite review at the top of its page.
Jared H. Beck of Beck & Lee Business Trial Lawyers in Miami and Gregory S. Weston of the Weston Firm in San Diego, who filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of several businesses, called the policy change a "first step in the right direction," in a press release. But they also noted that "there is much work left to be done through the legal process, including the looming issues of Yelp’s ‘pay to play’ sales tactics, as well as the pursuit of substantial restitution and damages owed to the class members.” As we reported last year, several local businesses accused Yelp of extorting them — offering to move or remove negative reviews in exchange for advertising. In response, Yelp denied the allegations and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman called them a "conspiracy theory."
However, it's still unclear how Yelp decides what order to display a business' reviews, and it's possible that manipulation is still occurring. For example, if one searches for "pizza" in "Berkeley," Yelp advertiser Piazza Pellegrini in North Beach will show up at the top of the search listings, clearly marked as a "sponsored result." However, the reviews on its page are not in chronological order. That also appears to be the case for non-Yelp advertiser Cheeseboard Collective.
Clearly, there are still many questions about Yelp's sales tactics and policies. However, this latest development does move the company toward greater transparency.