Last month, consumer review site Yelp sued a lawyer for allegedly posting bogus reviews “intended to sway potential clients with false testimonials” or as one report put it, “Yelp’s Newest Weapon Against Fake Reviews: Lawsuits.”
Defendant Julian McMillan, a San Diego bankruptcy attorney, denies it all. As a matter of fact, McMillan contends Yelp only filed suit because he tagged them for a judgment in prior litigation against the online business search and user review firm. He asks, “Are they suing any other owners with pages on Yelp or just the one that sued them and won?”
The causes of action include breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relations, and violations of California’s Business and Professions Code dealing with unfair competition and false advertising. See (Yelp, Inc. v. McMillan Law Group Inc., Cal. Super. Ct., S.F., No. CGC13-533654, filed 8/20/13).
Since I’m a Yelp user, I’m curious to see how it plays out. My own Yelp use has been both good and bad. When searching for restaurants, for example, I soon learned not to rely on ratings with less than 50 reviews. The more the better.
Its own controversies.
While Yelp’s Complaint paints the firm as diligent in its efforts to warn and protect consumers from “deceptive or fake reviews,” the company has not been without its share of criticism, including, for example, for the way it filters its reviews and handles its paid advertising. Indeed, over the past few years, there’s been plenty of litigation, including from disgruntled business owners. Also see “Yelp Extortion Rampant, Say Small–Business Owners As Class Action Lawsuit Against Review ‘Bully’ Appealed.”
Even reality T.V. travel and food personality Andrew Zimmern famously weighed in against Yelp for providing, as he ungraciously put it, “a tremendous forum for a bunch of uninformed morons to take down restaurants.”
That said, most users of consumer review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor know that prudent judgment is needed when relying on consumer websites, which are often plagued by fake reviews.
And to my own chagrin, I’ve also been led astray on occasion by the glowing but phony reviews posted on some of the online food, travel and product websites I’ve visited. Deceptive review sites are hard to police so when it comes down to it, ‘Caveat Emptor.’
The trite and blindingly obvious observation remains that the Internet can be dangerous — not only to your person as news stories tell us — but also to your pocketbooks.
I still remember the early days — more than a decade ago and well before today’s popular user review websites, when online hazards involved manipulation of a different sort.
For sheer brazenness, who can forget the Sacramento, California lawyer convicted on four counts of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud for conspiring to sell fake artwork on eBay using “shill bids,” to artificially drive up prices on artwork falsely claimed were painted by well-known artists?
These days, there’s other online nonsense. Last December, for instance, the e-commerce company, Amazon, purged thousands of its online book reviews culling those it believed were fake. And the authors howled.
Search, travel, entertainment and product review sites can hardly keep up as they work continually to update algorithms to catch the fake online reviews.
But software alone isn’t enough. Yelp’s latest courtroom foray against purported fake reviews isn’t the first nor likely its last. Other consumer sites also remain vigilant against what they deem questionable endorsements. Earlier this year, the car website Edmunds.com sued a firm it claimed created 60 fake reviews involving some two dozen car dealerships. And according to the Los Angeles Times, Yelp was parenthetically mentioned in the same story for having earlier sued another pay-for-reviews site for violating its terms of service.
“If you want me to treat your ideas with more respect, get some better ideas.” – John Scalzi
No matter, then, arrogant reality television personalities and their rants about the opinions of “uninformed morons.” Despite the problems encountered by consumers relying on user review websites, they remain popular, especially with the frequent reviewers who like telling the rest of us what they think about a restaurant, a hotel or a consumer product.
After all, as the joke goes, ‘people always need their opinions validated. Am I right?’
Photo Credits: ” Online Fraud,” by Don Hankins at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “0 appreciation for BAD food,” by Cami at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Painter’s Easel,” by Kasia Raj at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution.