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Yelp not liable for negative rating ‘stars’ on site, court rules


    The logo of the online reviews website Yelp was shown in neon on a wall at the company’s Manhattan offices in New York in Oct. 2011. Yelp’s star rating system does not make it liable for negative reviews posted on the site because it relies on reviews of businesses from users, a federal appeals court ruled today.

SAN FRANCISCO » Online review site Yelp’s star rating system does not make it liable for negative reviews posted on the site because it relies on reviews of businesses from users, a federal appeals court ruled today, dismissing a libel lawsuit filed against Yelp by a Washington state locksmith company owner.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the star rating system that Yelp features is based on users’ input and is not content created by the company that helps guides people to everything from restaurants to plumbers. Under federal law, the decision said, Yelp is not liable for content it gets from its users.

The ruling focused on the libel lawsuit filed by Douglas Kimzey, the owner of a Washington state locksmith business that the court said received a negative review on Yelp in 2011.

Kimzey claimed the negative review about his business was actually about another business, and said Yelp transferred it to his business in an attempt to extort him to pay to advertise with the company.

The appeals court called Kimzey’s allegations “threadbare” and said there were no facts alleging Yelp fabricated content under a third party’s identity.

“We fail to see how Yelp’s rating system, which is based on rating inputs from third parties and which reduces this information into a single, aggregate metric is anything other than user-generated data,” said Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel decision.

The appeals court has ruled previously that under the 1996 Communications Decency Act, websites that provide “neutral tools” to post material online cannot be held liable for libelous material posted by third parties.

It also dismissed Kimzey’s claim that Yelp should be held liable for distributing reviews to search engines.

The appeals court said distributing the content does not make Yelp the creator or developer of the content.

Kimzey served as his own attorney and said he plans to appeal to a larger court panel.

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  • There’s a reason why freedom of speech is part of the constitution. Seems like everyone wants to shut down negative comments no matter if it’s truthful or not. If those businesses don’t like it, then they should change and provide better customer service instead.

  • The issue with Yelp was that they had a filter to weed out questionable reviews. So not all reviews submitted would appear on Yelp. Some businesses thought positive reviews were being omitted when the business did not advertise with Yelp. Yelp points to studies that show the filter was automatic and did not take into account whether the business advertised with Yelp or not.
    Now, Yelp shows reviews in what they call “Yelp Sort.” That means the first reviews you read are selected by Yelp. The Yelp Sort is not explained on the website. It may be a replacement for the filter. I usually also look at the reviews sorted by date. I agree you should question whether some reviews are sincere or not, though.

  • I question the filter system that Yelp claims filters out unreliable reviews. But a simple email to the user that made the negative review to ask him or her if the business was in fact the correct one. And if the user does not respond within a reasonable amount of time, Yelp would be within it’s power to remove the review. The plaintiff’s claim was that it was a review of another business and that would have sorted things out. For the most part negative reviews should be seen as just one aspect in terms of the overall reviews. Yelp would learn well to use the one Amazon uses whereby users can sort reviews by a matrix that shows percentages of one, two, three and four stars, etc. Further the plaintiff could have simply played the game and worked on it’s services and gain some positive reviews to wash out that one negative review. I don’t think the courts should be involved in policing reviews written by unhappy customers. It falls under freedom of speech and such litigation costs taxpayers. I do note that the litigant is representing himself. The system should charge the litigant court costs if he loses.

  • As far as Yelp is concerned I do not trust a company that uses a “filter system” that weeds out reviews. It could easily manipulate the program to weed out reviews to work in favor of their advertisers. Yelp does not really disclose the methodology of their filter system which is a red flag to me. The inner workings can be adjusted and the software company can easily make that feature available to them. As far as reviews go I have used them in the past and found that positive reviews do not really mean anything. In my case, I hired MD Restoration based on rave reviews. The actual result was far from it. Their paint job was not good as a thin coat of paint covered darker paint which resulted in the old paint coming through. Paint splatters on the floor which were not even cleaned up. Flooring that was obviously done without a straight edge. And they even cost me additional testing money for asbestos on the flooring which they simply covered with another flooring. If they are not going to remove it, why have it tested? By the way, asbestos testing is a costly procedure. And then their can comes in damaged which explains why they’re late. Obviously the workers were hiding that incident from their employer. So no, their reviews are not accurate. It can easily be plugged by friends and family creating rave reviews to help a friend.

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