Diners likely know Yelp as the oft-hated bane of a business owner’s existence, allowing any user to review a company, restaurant, or bar — for better or worse. But now the online review platform is looking more closely at those reviews and publicly outing businesses that might be engaging in deceptive practices. In September, Engadget published a story that pointed out Yelp has started posting the names of businesses the company believes are offering discounts or freebies in exchange for reviews to a wall of shame, of sorts. Indeed, Yelp recently published a backlog of businesses it found to be violating the company’s policy against asking for reviews, part of Yelp’s overall Content Guidelines.
The Compensated & Suspicious Review Activity Alerts page is a new part of Yelp’s Trust & Safety site, a space where the platform breaks down how Yelp deals with content moderation and shares its annual trust and safety report on combatting incentivized reviews. The new page features links to the business’s Yelp page, along with a withering “View the evidence here” link. Follow that and you can view photographic evidence of email solicitations, promotional ads, or screenshots of social media posts offering gifts or products in exchange for reviews.
There are dozens of businesses listed on the page, such as Livermore’s Cali Kid Burgers ‘n Shakes which offered 25 percent off an order in exchange for a review back in 2021. Businesses featured on the page include repair companies, tax preparers, and, of course, restaurants and bars. All businesses found egregiously violating Yelp’s policies, such as paying for reviews, will both be added to the Trust & Safety page, in addition to the consumer alert pop-up added to the business’s Yelp page that’s been in practice since 2012. The pop-up is much like the more-known “unusual activity alert” that the company sometimes add to pages when reviewers start bombarding a business, often due to media coverage. Alerts are then removed after 90 days “if the offending behavior stops,” the guideline page reads.
It’s not just the online review company that’s worried about fake reviews — the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is concerned as well. A January 2022 article from the FTC offers a guide for businesses warning against soliciting and paying for online reviews, and as Engadget points out, the FTC is moving to crack down even further on phony reviews. A ban on fake reviews has been proposed by the FTC, levying hefty fines against businesses that “buy, sell and manipulate online reviews” totaling up to $50,000 for each fake review – plus the number of times a customer sees it.
But the more recent reason for the push to punish businesses for “illicit review practices” is the rise of artificial intelligence tools, which can lead to more fake reviews given the ease in which A.I. can produce review blurbs, CBS News reports. A Public Interest Research Group note referenced in the report indicates that 30 to 40 percent of online reviews are “concocted or are in some way not genuine” and that these types of reviews grew during the pandemic as online shopping took off.
Correction, October 6, 2023, 11 a.m.: This article has been corrected to more accurately state that Yelp is now publicly posting a list of egregious violators of its policies — not all businesses that request reviews.