Yet More Online Review Problems: Yelpers Sue Yelp for Wages

Online reviews keep stirring controversy, whether it's about them being fake, biased or worth money.

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In their pending lawsuit, the Yelpers compare Yelp to a “slave ship.” Suing for wages, authors of online reviews for the crowdsourced site argue that Yelp could not be sustained or make profits without their work. That’s true on some level, of course. It’s also widely understood that Yelp reviews are written without pay for the good of the service, which helps millions of users avoid terrible kebabs and find hairdressers who totally get their curls.

Four plaintiffs filed the class-action suit in a California U.S. district court last week. This week, Yelp provided Fast Company with a response:

This is a textbook example of a frivolous lawsuit, it is unfortunate the court has to waste its time adjudicating it and we will seek to have it dismissed. The argument that voluntarily using a free service equates to an employment relationship is completely without merit, unsupported by law and contradicted by the dozens of websites like Yelp that consumers use to help one another.

Tech pundits have called the suit “ridiculous” and “incredibly stupid.” It’s also the latest in a long string of problems surrounding online reviews.

There is a legitimate fear that whatever review you’re reading might be fake. The New York Attorney General recently settled a case with 19 businesses who agreed to pay a total of $350,000 after being accused of selling or forging reviews. Yelp itself is constantly using software to weed through millions of phony and legitimate reviews submitted to their site. According to a recent blog post from the company, about 75% make it through their filter to the general public. And a disheartening Gartner study estimates that up to 15% of all online reviews will be fake by next year.

Then there’s the swag issue. The Federal Trade Commission has been targeting household-name retailers like Ann Taylor LOFT for giving free stuff to bloggers who attend events like store openings or collection previews. And top reviewers on Amazon, part of an invitation-only program called Amazon Vine, are regularly getting free products to pen their opinions, NPR reports. They can’t resell or gift the merchandise, and an Amazon rep points out that Vine reviewers are more stingy with their stars than users across the site. But the basic problem remains: compensation in things or dollars can lead to bias, which can lead to misleading endorsements.

In their terms of service, Yelp asks all users not to violate the site’s content guidelines by “compensating someone or being compensated” to write a review. Perhaps they need to write it out in bold that compensation won’t be coming from their end, either.

6 comments
danj
danj

This is non-sense.no body ask them to review . they do it from their own will.

what about suing Google for making billions out of people's searches ? its free , you want to use it - go ahead but don't ask us to pay you ! 

http://www.waterdamagenynj.com/

DDeMarco
DDeMarco

@DanielABernath I am curious if next on your docket is the class action to compel Wikipedia to pay all of the contributors to it's encyclopedia.  People voluntarily contributing to an organization are just that...volunteers. 

DanielABernath
DanielABernath

We are confident that this lawsuit will get plaintiffs their wages.  Workers cannot waive their rights to wages under the Fair Standards Labor Act.  Federal judges understand this and this summer the entertainment industry learned that its so called "volunteer" "intern" workers must be paid (Glatt v. Fox Searchlight) and we are confident the US District Court of California will also permit these hereto now unpaid workers to obtain their wages under federal law.  Read the actual complaint instead of hearing about it second hand.  www.yelpclassaction.info 

JeffFrank
JeffFrank

@DanielABernath Decent arguments in the complaint.  It will be interesting to see how it goes.  As someone who somewhat regularly uses Yelp and rarely enters reviews, I'm far more concerned about the allegations of Yelp dictating review content than whether reviewers are entitled to pay.  I believe that those "fired" (in the vernacular of the complaint) are simply pissed off that their egos aren't getting stroked any longer.  The lived and breathed on the ego-stroking Yelp gave them and then had that cut from under them, much like being excommunicated from a favorite religion.  Employees entitled to wages?  Not in my layman's opinion, but we'll see what the courts have to say!

DanielABernath
DanielABernath

@JeffFrank @DanielABernath I have noted no emotion like revenge as you call it.  We are merely enforcing settled law against a business that is notorious for not following the law (e.g. Panzer v. Yelp, two judges have already condemned Yelp as like the "Mafia", "Twisting the Law", their business model is "offensive" and they may soon be proved to be "organized crime" and that the Attorney General already has Yelp under investigation  (Judge Kantor Mult. County Court-Portland Oregon)