Home | Blog | Software | Reviews and Features | Forum | Help | Donate | About us
topbanner_forum
  *

avatar image

Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
  • December 03, 2016, 09:44:18 AM
  • Proudly celebrating 10 years online.
  • Donate now to become a lifetime supporting member of the site and get a non-expiring license key for all of our programs.
  • donate

Author Topic: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites  (Read 10352 times)

mouser

  • First Author
  • Administrator
  • Joined in 2005
  • *****
  • Posts: 36,405
    • View Profile
    • Mouser's Software Zone on DonationCoder.com
    • Read more about this member.
    • Donate to Member
This is the ugly side of review sites and of scrambling to get content into top positions in search engines.

Quote
The plaintiff claims that Yelp sales staff then began calling the hospital frequently with “high-pressure” tactics promising to move or delete negative reviews in exchange for purchasing a one-year advertising contract. The site also allegedly promised to ensure that negative reviews wouldn’t appear in Google or other search engine results.
...
During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, six people told this newspaper that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise. In another six instances, positive reviews disappeared — or negative ones appeared — after owners declined to advertise.
...
Because they were often asked to advertise soon after receiving negative reviews, many of these business owners believe Yelp employees use such reviews as sales leads. Several, including John, even suspect Yelp employees of writing them. Indeed, Yelp does pay some employees to write reviews of businesses that are solicited for advertising. And in at least one documented instance, a business owner who refused to advertise subsequently received a negative review from a Yelp employee.


Eóin

  • Charter Member
  • Joined in 2006
  • ***
  • Posts: 1,401
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Re: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2010, 12:11:35 PM »
Not shocking but very disappointing :(

A funny comment on the wired.com writeup:

Quote
Blackmail? It’s a premium member ‘feature’; paying a little extra to have negative reviews moderated down… What’s wrong with that? It’s completely legal and part of the free market.

Me suspects a troll.

Deozaan

  • Charter Member
  • Joined in 2006
  • ***
  • Points: 1
  • Posts: 7,713
    • View Profile
    • The Blog of Deozaan
    • Read more about this member.
    • Donate to Member
Re: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2010, 05:59:46 PM »
Welp, I guess that's the end of Yelp.


mouser

  • First Author
  • Administrator
  • Joined in 2005
  • *****
  • Posts: 36,405
    • View Profile
    • Mouser's Software Zone on DonationCoder.com
    • Read more about this member.
    • Donate to Member
Re: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2010, 06:08:17 PM »
Quote
I guess that's the end of Yelp.

oh to be so young and full of hope..

allow me to present you with some alternative remedies:
  • find a scapegoat at the company, fire them; all is forgotten and forgiven.
  • replace the company ceo; all is forgotten and forgiven.
  • change the company name; all is forgotten and forgiven.
  • hire pr firm to explain how company has learned its lesson; all is forgotten and forgiven.
  • i could go on..

JavaJones

  • Review 2.0 Designer
  • Charter Member
  • Joined in 2005
  • ***
  • Posts: 2,717
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Re: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2010, 06:32:24 PM »
Interesting and not surprising. The company I work for has had to deal with some Yelp schiestyness as well. Fun!

The sad thing is I think Yelp *could* be a great resource. Heck it *is* sometimes, I use it semi-regularly myself, and posted a bunch of links to business profiles on it in my blog recently. But stuff like this worries me...

- Oshyan

cranioscopical

  • Friend of the Site
  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2006
  • **
  • Posts: 4,366
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Re: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2010, 06:35:31 PM »
Quote from: mouser
oh to be so young and full of hope..

allow me to present you with some alternative remedies:

And you so young to be so cynical  :o

rxantos

  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2009
  • **
  • Posts: 116
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Re: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2010, 08:24:15 PM »
If you are on the USA. Extortion is one of the pillars of our society. Just look at the IRS, one might think they invented it :)

The best thing you can do, legally, is to just don't do business with this kind of people nor use their services.

And, if you are really lucky, and got proof that will stand in court. Sue them and hope they don't bribe your lawyer or the judge. Good luck with that, justice may be blind, but sure likes money.

Quote
Yelp employees and only agreed to be interviewed if granted anonymity, said several sales reps have told him they promised to move reviews to get businesses to advertise. "It's not illegal or unethical," he said they told him. "We're just helping the little guy. It doesn't hurt them, it benefits them."

I do not know if its legal or not. But is certainly unethical.  As always people that do wrong are delusional, thinking they are doing good. Just like Al Capone, John Dilinger, Dick Chenney  :)


J-Mac

  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2007
  • **
  • Posts: 2,913
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Re: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2010, 09:45:08 PM »
Similar accusations were rampant only a few months after Yelp appeared on the web. I have seen this several times IRL; no reason to think it wouldn’t be the same in cyberspace. Philadelphia Magazine did this to a friend who had opened a small eatery in a section of Philadelphia called Olde City - a run-down area that had been "reborn" and had several new establishments opening. They contacted her and asked her to purchase a standing quarter-page ad. She couldn't yet afford that - it was very expensive. The next month's issue had a "secret reviewer" type review that said the food was terrible. Then they contacted her again and she managed to negotiate a smaller ad purchase. A month later she got a follow-up review which said the previous one must have been an off-day and it praised everything about her shop - greatest shop ever!

This is common in most large cities. Online too, I guess.

Thanks!

Jim

PS - I was going to post a link to an early article about this but it turns out that mouser's first link above is the one - Feb 2009, less than a year after Yelp launched their east coast ops and suddenly jumped out ahead of CitySearch.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2010, 09:57:09 PM by J-Mac »

the3seashells

  • Participant
  • Joined in 2006
  • *
  • Posts: 19
  • "Is that what you call this?"
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Re: Yelp Website Accused of Extortion -- More Examples of Corrupt Review Sites
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2010, 12:04:47 PM »
Both of the reviews that I posted on yelp have been deleted. In once case, I was even the first reviewer of the place, added the business, and my review was still remove. They were both somewhat negative (a one start and a two star), but I dispassionately stated why I was not happy with the service I received.

Yelp tries to be sneaky about it; if you are logged in, they display your deleted reviews, even though it is not factored into the average score. When logged in with another account, or not logged in at all, the deleted reviews are not displayed.

I try to tell everyone that I know to not trust Yelp at all. I use Google's reviews. They have much more of a reputation at stake and I am not as worried they they will delete reviews to please / extort companies.

mouser

  • First Author
  • Administrator
  • Joined in 2005
  • *****
  • Posts: 36,405
    • View Profile
    • Mouser's Software Zone on DonationCoder.com
    • Read more about this member.
    • Donate to Member
Official reply from Yelp:


Definitely worth reading, and puts forward a reasonable case that they are not doing what they are accused of doing.

Given how many spammers and scammers are out there writing fake reviews, I do have some sympathy for their claim that they need to remove reviews aggressively if they suspect the reviews are planted.

J-Mac

  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2007
  • **
  • Posts: 2,913
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Official reply from Yelp:

Given how many spammers and scammers are out there writing fake reviews, I do have some sympathy for their claim that they need to remove reviews aggressively if they suspect the reviews are planted.

True to a point, but it still looks a lot like Yelp does not have a handle on their advertising sales staff. Actually if they don’t stop the "review fixing" claims made by their sales people then they are as much to blame as the "rogue" sales reps.

At least IMO.

Thanks!

Jim

mouser

  • First Author
  • Administrator
  • Joined in 2005
  • *****
  • Posts: 36,405
    • View Profile
    • Mouser's Software Zone on DonationCoder.com
    • Read more about this member.
    • Donate to Member
good point Jim, and let's not forget that this is one of the oldest games in business -- to hire aggressive sales people and let them loose to see how far they can bend the rules and use questionable practices while looking the other way.

J-Mac

  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2007
  • **
  • Posts: 2,913
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
good point Jim, and let's not forget that this is one of the oldest games in business -- to hire aggressive sales people and let them loose to see how far they can bend the rules and use questionable practices while looking the other way.

Plus the blog article you linked to says that they never have employees write reviews; what they DO (or did) is to appoint Ambassadors and Scouts and instruct them to write reviews. And they were paid - not sure if they still are now. Revisionist history?

Thanks!

Jim

xtabber

  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2007
  • **
  • Posts: 572
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
If you are on the USA. Extortion is one of the pillars of our society. Just look at the IRS, one might think they invented it :)

Not true. The IRS only enforces the tax laws devised by our elected representatives.

My experience is that, as long as you are honest in dealing with them and don't try to bend the rules, the IRS can be tremendously helpful to people in business for themselves.

I wish I could say as much about our elected representatives.

J-Mac

  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2007
  • **
  • Posts: 2,913
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Hehehe - You have apparently never run afoul of the IRS....  Or are too young to remember a couple decades back....

At one time - not so very long ago - the IRS was said to have more legal power to seize and arrest than any other regime in modern history. Seizures of all types of property were made without warrants from any court. BTW, this is still the law, however changes - I think back around 2003 or 2004 - require notice to be given; previously none was required at all. Meaning that the IRS could show up at your house, forcibly remove you and your family, and then take possession of all your belongings - including the house itself. This was nothing you could then reverse; once seized it was no longer yours. You couldn't pony up the cash owed and get it back.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the IRS had a policy of selecting a certain number of households - even with very minor tax law infractions - and completely ruining their lives. Their reasoning was that they couldn't possibly audit and prosecute all the tax cheats; too many of them and not nearly enough IRS agents. But to make examples of families in select areas would frighten many other taxpayers into being honest. I remember a news film showing IRS agents breaking  the driver's window in an old VW Beetle - with a woman sitting in the driver's seat! - and then dragging her out, sitting her in the street, and taking the car. Part of a seizure of all her property, sans warrant. (She had locked herself in thinking they wouldn’t do that.

The IRS of the period from about 1975 through 1990 was the most feared police agency in the free world!

Jim

JavaJones

  • Review 2.0 Designer
  • Charter Member
  • Joined in 2005
  • ***
  • Posts: 2,717
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
While I think the blog post and its example scenarios are compelling, if "all" that's going on is their automated filter "doing its job", then I might suggest their filter needs more work. It's certainly a tough job it has, and maybe an impossible one for an algorithm to do fairly. It's great that they're trying I guess, but I'm just not sure how reasonably certain they can be of its efficacy. How do they measure it? In the case of someone reviewing their friend's business, how do they know they don't also like the way they do business?

Many people structure their entire business world around relationships, reciprocity, even friendships, and many good, long-time customers become friends of the business owners or at least of employees. How do you fairly judge these reviews? Even in real-life, *knowing* the connections, how do you fairly judge!? If I hear such-and-such restaurant is good but I know that the person I heard it from is friends with the owner, do I think less of the recommendation? Probably, at least a bit. But then maybe I know the person recommending very well and know they'd be unbiased, as they've told me before that another friend's establishment is terrible, even though he's a good friend. Etc, etc, on and on.

So how do they reasonably expect a software algorithm to do this and not make *lots* of mistakes and piss people off? I don't know. But I recognize the difficulty of providing a review site without such filtering as well. My personal approach would be to allow up/down rating of reviews by visitors, maybe a "mod-point" like system as-in Slashdot, and then a "trustworthiness" rating that comes out of that and the algorithm's determinations, and a "trustworythiness threshold" that you could set while browsing reviews, again like Slashdot. Outright removing reviews just seems unfair and error-prone in the extreme. It's no problem if their algorithm weighs heavily in the decision to mod down a review or whatever, but to remove it entirely unless it's obvious spam (e.g. get viagra here!) seems presumptuous.

- Oshyan

JavaJones

  • Review 2.0 Designer
  • Charter Member
  • Joined in 2005
  • ***
  • Posts: 2,717
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
P.S. I know Yelp has a "flag" system already, but it's cumbersome and comment-based, and so difficult for an algorithm to interpret, and (likely as a result) it's widely regarded as ineffective.

Here's an idea for Yelp: come with a simply, easy, cost-effective way to verify that reviewers have been customers of the business they're reviewing. Some places I've heard of require you to scan a receipt or give a receipt #, which could obviously be error-prone or easily faked. If Yelp is serious about it, they should look into partnering with point of sale and reservation companies like OpenTable, issue a "Yelp review code" to each customer with their receipt, and then mark those reviews (when completed with the proper code) with a special "Verified Review" badge or something. Charge for the service, of course. Granted this would take a lot of effort and resources to make it happen, but it's worth considering and refining to a practical model I think. And if anyone has the clout with businesses to get them to implement something like this on a worthwhile scale, it's Yelp (or Google :D).

- Oshyan

Josh

  • Charter Honorary Member
  • Joined in 2005
  • ***
  • Points: -5
  • Posts: 3,395
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Am I the only one who feels this is reminiscent of betanews/fileforum? They seem to remove reviews or comments once a certain number of users email in complaining. I have tested this theory myself and watched as certain reviews that would be otherwise legitimate, are removed for nothing more than a complaint.

MarmotMan

  • Participant
  • Joined in 2008
  • *
  • Posts: 4
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
Belkin pleads for mercy over paid Amazon reviews deception

Unfortunately, forgery and extortion are common business practice with unethical businesses. MicroShaft and Outtel are famous for having "supply-line problems" with customers who have the temerity to also make computer systems using competitors' products. The only effective way to deal with these companies is to take your money elsewhere.

kartal

  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2008
  • **
  • Posts: 1,529
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
One more example of why ad sponsored content or service can turn into another internet bubble. I have never used Yelp or any similar services on the internet and I am proud of my own intuition about these kinds of services.

from their official blog
"Myth #1: Yelp offers to remove or reorder reviews in exchange for money.

Truth: Yelp Sales Representatives sell sponsored search results, enhanced listings and targeted advertisements. Period."

This makes the case for me even more. When do you draw a line  between sponsored or extorted search result?

40hz

  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2007
  • **
  • Posts: 11,768
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
There's an article over at Wired on the situation with iPhone apps and how some prominent and well regarded review sites are charging a fee to 'expedite' reviews.

http://www.wired.com...%28Gear+Factor%29%29
Quote
Gadget Lab Hardware News and Reviews
Pay to Play: Some iPhone App Sites Demand Money for Reviews (Updated)

    * By Brian X. Chen Email Author
    * March 18, 2010  |
    * 3:02 pm  |
    * Categories: Phones
    *

iphone payola
----------------

If you can’t pitch the press, pay them. That’s the proposition some review sites have for publicity-starved iPhone developers.

Several websites dedicated to iPhone app reviews are requesting payments from developers in exchange for writeups of their apps, Wired.com has learned. Those payments are not always clearly disclosed to readers, and the practice hasn’t received much discussion outside of gaming blogs.

Soliciting money in exchange for a product review is not illegal, but the practice should raise questions about the credibility and independence of the review sites, critics say.

“They prey on people who need exposure,” said Oliver Cameron, developer of the popular iPhone app Postman, who has avoided pitching his apps to sites that request payment for reviews. “It strikes me as a paid ad, really. They never seem to actually ‘review’ it.”

The two sites that were most frequently mentioned by programmers who contacted Wired.com were TheiPhoneAppReview.com and AppCraver.com. Both sites appear in the top four Google search results for the search term “iPhone app review.”

With more than 150,000 apps in the iPhone App Store, rising above the crowd is a major challenge for developers. Getting a good review on the web can help drive sales and that, in turn, can raise an app’s profile within the App Store. While apps that earn their creators hundreds of thousands of dollars are rare, they do exist, and many developers seek publicity in hopes of achieving this dream.

Driven by that demand, app review websites are offering to “expedite” reviews — that is, bring apps to the front of the review queue — in exchange for a fee. But at least one site, ThePhoneAppReview.com, has gone even further, and threatened to shun products whose developers haven’t paid for reviews.

A related article by MacDirectory discusses how deals like this work :

Link: http://www.macdirect...Detail/news_id,1867/

Quote
Developer Michael D'Ulisse told Wired that one site, TheiPhoneAppReview.com, refused to review his app Pocket Labeler unless he ponied up a $25 fee. TheiPhoneAppReview does disclose on its About page that it offers an "expedited review service" for a "small fee," but the site's editor in chief, Shaun Campbell, told Wired that TheiPhoneAppReview does not require developers to pay a fee for a review.

"I have never once sent a request for a fee to a developer to review their app," Campbell. "That is not our policy, which is why that is not stated in the About."

That second sentence is a flat-out lie.

I don't know whether Campbell has or has not personally requested a developer to send him a fee in exchange for a review, but I do know that at one time it was most certainly the site's policy to ask for one. How do I know this? When I inquired about writing for the site back in September of last year, Campbell told me this in an email:

"Our business is centered around providing coverage of new and interesting iPhone applications to assist with the marketing and promotion of our clients (the developers). Currently, we charge a nominal fee of $20 to review an iPhone application, though this is likely to grow in the near future as website traffic continues to improve.

We are looking to take on independent contributing authors that, through the use of iTunes, contact iPhone app developers to offer their review services. Due to the sheer volume of iPhone applications out there, and the need to stand out in the marketplace, the response rate is generally quite favorable."


Now in full disclosure, I still pursued this writing gig. I'm not proud of this, but I was in need of money and I was also not aware that TheiPhoneAppReview did not clearly disclose their pay-to-play practice. Fortunately, I was spared an internal moral quandary because Campbell never responded to me after his initial email.

Apparently, these revelations are starting to cause some pain. Because when the Today in iPhone podcast published verbatim two emails it received from  iPhone App Reviews ("explaining" the site's position on this matter) it received a legal threat for doing so:

Link: http://tii.libsyn.co...payola_to_wired_com_

Quote
Update: 3/20/2010 10:41 AM CT - Mr. Campbell sent me an email threatening legal action if I do not remove the emails above. He claimed they were in violation of Copyright law.  However I claim they fall under the fair use doctrine - as the emails present a counter claim to his public comments in the Wired article and as such provide the public with needed information.  I guess we will let the courts decide.  I don't like being threatened - Mr. Campbell I will NOT remove the emails above.  

Somehow, I get the feeling this is just the tip of the iceberg...

« Last Edit: March 21, 2010, 01:06:45 AM by 40hz »