The concept is simple, people review the restaurants, bars and businesses so that you can make a judgment based on people's actual experiences. While this approach does have its drawbacksY crowdsourced reviews are generally a good way to find out the skinny on a new place.
Almost since its inception, however, Yelp has been controversial. Business owners have threatened to sue over bad reviews and there have been persistent allegations that companies have been offered the chance to remove bad reviews if they buy an advertising package, allegations the site's management vehemently denies.
"Only a member of the user support team can remove a review and this team is not part of the sales organization. Please note that members of our user support team do not receive compensation tied to sales performance. It's our version of checks and balance," the company says in its FAQ.
Now things have come to a head, with a class action extortion complaint filed in the US District Court for the Central District of California, on behalf of Gregory Perrault, a veterinarian who owns and operates Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach.
Perrault claims that a sales executive from Yelp promised him that he could have much more control over the site if he bought a $300 per month advertising package.
"I don't have a problem with negative reviews. Like probably most business people, you use negative reviews to your advantage, as long as they're not emotional or making fun of [people]," Perrault told ABCNews.com.
"It's just that I tried following their rules about the reviews and I've been [faced with] this extortion ever since."
Yelp says that the claims are demonstrably untrue and it will fight the action. Several other businesses have also indicated that they want to get involved, according to Perrault's legal team.
"We've been directly contacted by dozens of people. And in every location you can think of. Literally across the country," said Beck, an attorney with Beck & Lee Business Trial Lawyers in Miami.
"What we learned is that this isn't an isolated practice or a single event or a single sales representative run amok. This seems to be a regular business practice."
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