Yelp accused of “high-tech extortion”; faces class-action lawsuit

The San Francisco-based popular business review site Yelp - which was under fire last year for promoting and even fabricating negative reviews so as to garner payments from businesses to have the reviews concealed or removed - has recently been accused of "high-tech extortion" in a class-action lawsuit filed in US District Count, Central District of California.

As per the allegations, Yelp tried to get a Long Beach veterinary hospital - Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital - to pay $300 per month, for at least a year, to stifle or obliterate false and defamatory reviews that disparaged the hospital.

According to the allegations, Dr. Gregory Perrault, the owner of Cats and Dogs, came across a false and derogatory review posted on Yelp by a user called "Chris R." Though the review was removed at Perrault's insistence, a second negative review from a user named as "Kay K" appeared on the site within five days.

Thereafter, Yelp sales staff allegedly started making frequent calls to the hospital, saying that the negative reviews will be deleted if the hospital agreed to purchase a one-year advertising contract. When the hospital refused, the negative review from "Chris R." too re-appeared.

Accusing Yelp of manipulation of reviews and business ratings via an apparent `extortion' scheme, the complaint said: "The business listings on Yelp. com, contrary to the website's `Real people. Real reviews.' mantra, are in fact biased in favor of businesses that buy Yelp advertising."