The popular review website Yelp, founded by Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons in 2004, is an online urban guide to everywhere you might want to go, and its user-driven content in the form of reviews accomplishes this more quickly and effectively than the old-fashioned world-of-mouth approach, but in the same spirit. However, Yelp ran into heavy criticism and and a lawsuit when it was alleged that it was removing positive reviews from its website for those companies that didn’t buy ads. Plaintiffs in the case said this amounted to extortion.
A U.S. Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling saying that the reviews were basically Yelp’s property and it could “post and arrange actual reviews on the site as it saw fit.” In addition, the court said businesses, “don’t have a pre-existing right to have positive reviews appear on Yelp’s website.”
While this sounds fair enough for the company, users might become more skeptical regarding to reviews. It is helpful to keep in mind that such reviews are the property of the site, and may not be the unvarnished word-of-mouth version.