Here at Yelp we know that privacy is important to our users. So you may be wondering what happens when someone seeks information about a user. To explain, let’s start from the beginning.
From Yelp’s founding in 2004, our goal has been to connect people with great local businesses. A primary way we do that is by publishing firsthand user reviews of local businesses that provide useful information to businesses and consumers alike. While we encourage users to use their real names and a real photo for their account profile—and make this mandatory for those that want to join the Yelp Elite Squad—we also stand up for users that choose not to do so. We do this because we acknowledge some people will choose not to speak at all, especially when discussing sensitive topics, if they think they might be exposed to harassment, abuse, stereotyping, shaming, or invasions of their privacy as a result. While this may be less of a concern for someone reviewing their local café, it might be an issue for someone reviewing a lawyer or a doctor who worked with them on a sensitive issue.
When Yelp receives a request for personal information about its users, we do not simply turn over the information. To even consider turning over a user’s personal information we require a valid subpoena, warrant, or other legal request. Each request we receive is individually vetted to determine if it is a legitimate request and procedurally valid. We also investigate the substance of the request, reviewing the underlying case or investigation, the evidence (if any) that a claim could be valid, the role of the user in the underlying matter, the scope of the request, and any other pertinent information.
Unless a thorough review of the subpoena or warrant, and any accompanying factual evidence, makes clear that there is a legally valid reason to disclose the requested information, Yelp will typically object or seek to quash the legal request. Sometimes that means Yelp goes to court to ask that a judge invalidate the request. Yelp is an industry leader when it comes to fighting for its users. Yelp has gone to bat again and again to maintain users’ privacy by opposing efforts in court to require Yelp to disclose user personal information, and ultimately obtaining legal decisions that help protect our users’ privacy long term, whether their information is sought by government agencies or business owners.
We take a rigorous approach to requests for user information, but our commitment to user privacy does not end there. Keep an eye out for future posts about different steps Yelp takes to protect the privacy of its users.