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Appellate court affirms Yelp truthfully describes its recommendation software

Yelp's review algorithm surfaces the most trusted reviews to consumers



At Yelp, our users’ trust is our top priority, which is why we take industry leading measures to maintain the integrity and quality of content on our platform, while leveling the playing field for hard working business owners who rightfully earn their great reputations. In a decision issued today, the California Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment that Yelp’s statements about its automated recommendation software – including that it gives consumers “the most trusted reviews” – were not false or misleading.

Our automated recommendation software looks at billions of data points from all reviews, reviewers and businesses and applies uniform criteria to decide which reviews should be recommended — trying to filter out reviews that could be unfairly biased (like compensated reviews, reviews solicited by the business, or those written by people with conflicts of interest), fake, low quality or that are otherwise less reliable. For example, if a business could give themselves five star reviews or their competitors one star reviews, it would be misleading to consumers and unfair to other businesses. In fact, Yelp’s recommendation software is intentionally completely automated, ensuring Yelp employees and advertisers cannot influence which reviews it recommends or not for a particular business.

This long running case started a decade ago when restaurateur James Demetriades, unhappy with criticisms his restaurants received from Yelp reviewers, filed a false advertising lawsuit challenging how Yelp described its recommendation software. Through his lawsuit, Mr. Demetriades, who is also a former software company executive, sought personal access to details about the recommendation software – a proprietary algorithm that is engineered to be Yelp’s first line of defense to mitigate misinformation at scale on our platform.

In 2019, the lower court ruled in Yelp’s favor, following a trial featuring detailed evidence about the operation of Yelp’s recommendation software (information to which Mr. Demetriades himself was not privy). The court found that “Yelp’s evidence established its filter determines which reviews can be categorized as ‘most trusted’” and that Yelp had provided “substantial evidence of the efforts made by Yelp employees, including engineers, to ensure that real people with established profiles are writing the top reviews, and that business owners and employees are not writing their own biased or inaccurate reviews of their businesses or the businesses of their competitors.”

However, Mr. Demetriades appealed the judgment, arguing that he was improperly restricted from receiving Yelp’s trade secrets at trial. Today’s Court of Appeal decision disagreed and affirmed the judgment in Yelp’s favor, citing the abundant evidence Yelp provided at trial that supported its statements, including confidential information previously provided to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General. In fact, following previous investigations into Yelp’s recommendation software and review practices, these entities declined to take action against Yelp

The appellate court noted that the case record showed the great risk in allowing private parties access to information about the operation of Yelp’s recommendation software, including evidence demonstrating that Mr. Demetriades “exhorted [his company’s] director to ‘hire the people’ who could write positive reviews” and that “at least one restaurant employee and one manager submitted a review in violation of Yelp’s terms of service.” That manager even “submitted six 5-star reviews of [Plaintiff’s restaurant] within the space of three hours, five of them under five assumed names.” This, of course, is the very sort of conduct that Yelp’s recommendation software is designed to mitigate.

After 10 years of litigation we are glad to see the courts recognize that we mean what we say — Yelp works hard to protect the integrity of its content so consumers have access to the most reliable information and hardworking businesses who rightfully earn their great reputation are protected from those who might try to “game the system.”

You can learn more about Yelp’s recommendation software, and our other initiatives to protect consumers and businesses, in our recently released Trust & Safety Report for 2021.

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