FOIA release from FTC outs Yelp as ‘Internet Mafia’

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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In an ironic twist, the Federal Trade Commission released 685 small business complaints filed against Yelp last week, several weeks after the agency dropped a similar case against Google that was prompted by Yelp and other companies.

Companies from the FairSearch Coalition, which included Expedia, Microsoft, Kayak and others, had joined with Yelp to accuse Google of engaging in anti-competitive business practices.

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the FTC by MuckRock News in August 2012 yielded hundreds of similar complaints leveled against Yelp by small businesses using its service.

Allegations against Yelp included spamming businesses that used its service, making harassing sales calls and threatening to delete positive reviews from businesses that declined to purchase advertising.

One particular complaint released by the FTC referred to Yelp as the “Internet Mafia” for removing “totally legit costumer reviews”, stating, “No other websites act like this!”

Another complaint, filed in April 2012, called Yelp the “thug of the Internet.”

“If you do not pay for advertising they remove your good reviews claiming a mysterious ‘ Filter’ they can not explain removed them on the same day you rejected their advertising fees?? Hmmmm,” the complaint read, adding that Yelp “should clearly be fined.”

Yelp has addressed similar complaints on its website in the past, labeling them “myths.”

Editor’s note: An original version of this story incorrectly identified Travelocity and Yelp as part of FairSearch. Yelp was a FairSearch ally.

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Josh Peterson