Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman posted an entry to the company blog on Friday afternoon, coming out forcefully against a recent class action lawsuit that says the business reviews site runs its advertising sales operation like an "extortion scheme."
"There has been a long history of people accusing Yelp of monkeying around with reviews in exchange for money," Stoppelman wrote in the post. "The allegations are disappointing, not only because they are false, but because they ignore empirical evidence in favor of conspiracy theories."
Yelp has consistently fought allegations from media outlets and businesses who say that its advertising sales team runs a shady business of offering to remove or hide negative customer reviews in exchange for payments. These were highlighted most prominently in an expose in the East Bay Express newspaper about a year ago, in which several small business owners claimed that Yelp representatives would call them repeatedly to see if they were willing to pay to have negative reviews made less prominent.
"Simply put, Yelp does not remove or hide negative reviews in exchange for money and Yelp salespeople do not offer to do so," Stoppelman wrote in the post. "Additionally, Yelp treats review content equally for advertisers and non-advertisers alike. Advertisers pay for advertising and enhanced listings, and nothing more; and businesses are not penalized for declining to advertise."
The class action lawsuit was filed this week on behalf of a Los Angeles-area veterinary hospital that petitioned to Yelp to "remove a false and defamatory review," and claims that "the company's sales representatives repeatedly contacted the hospital and demanded a roughly $300-per-month payment in exchange for hiding or removing the negative review."
Stoppelman says that Yelp will fight the suit: "We know this lawsuit to be without merit, we will fight it vigorously, and we are confident we will prevail."