The Wall Street Journal blogs that somone filed a lawsuit against Yelp alleging extortion. The lawsuit alleges that Yelp will take down negative reviews in return for money; others allege that Yelp will take down positive reviews if you do not purchase an advertising package.
Let's say that someone is collecting money for removing negative reviews from Yelp. Is it really Yelp?
I expect it's easy enough for a criminal ring to target business owners. They crooks put up several negative reviews; instead of waiting for the business to complain to Yelp, the crooks contact the business directly and offer their "package." The business owner, convinced that he's doing business with Yelp, pays up; the negative reviews disappear; maybe the crooks are smart even smart enough to pay some of the ill-gotten gains for promised advertising.
When I want to prove I own a web page, the person I'm doing business with will ask me to put a comment into the web page's source code, a token that only the web page editor can insert. That's a level of sophisticated identity authentication that I expect most business owners do not have.
Now I admit I'm curious... even if this lawsuit does not involve crooks, does a ring such as the one I describe exist on Yelp or elsewhere?
P.S. The most damage to Yelp would not be to their reputation, or even the proceeds from the lawsuit. I will guess that the most damage would be to their loss of Section 230 safe harbor protection — a smart lawyer could easily (and very profitably) argue that Yelp loses that protection if they manipulate positive and negative reviews to force businesses to subscribe to their services.
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