Yelp Defeats Legal Challenge to Its User Review Filter

Feb 06, 13

PPP Board Member Eric Goldman, Director of the High Tech Law Institute and law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, had a piece published on Forbes’ website today discussing a recent legal victory for Yelp, in which a judge ruled that the case against it was a SLAPP.

“Yelp ($YELP) uses an automated review filter to suppress some user reviews of businesses. The review filter’s criteria aren’t publicly disclosed, and some businesses feel that legitimate positive reviews from happy customers are unfairly hidden. One business owner, an operator of three restaurants in Mammoth Lakes, California and a Yelp advertiser, got so frustrated with the review filter that he challenged Yelp’s review filter in court. Recently, the court ruled decisively in favor of Yelp, confirming that Yelp isn’t legally liable for filtering users’ reviews as it sees fit.

The restaurant owner didn’t attack the review filter directly. Instead, he complained about Yelp’s marketing descriptions of its review filter, claiming that Yelp falsely advertises its trustworthiness when it uses characterizations such as “remarkable filtering process” and “most trustworthy.” Yelp responded that the lawsuit was a “SLAPP”–a lawsuit designed to suppress socially beneficial speech–and therefore should be dismissed per California’s anti-SLAPP law. (See this post for more discussion about anti-SLAPP laws). The court agreed with Yelp, finding that “statements regarding the filtering of reviews on a social media site such as yelp.com are matters of public interest.” The court also concluded that Yelp’s laudatory statements about its review filter were “puffery,” not factual representations. Cf. Seaton v. TripAdvisor. As a result, if the anti-SLAPP dismissal survives a likely appeal, the restaurant owner will have to pay Yelp’s legal defense costs.”

Read the rest of the post here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericgoldman/2013/02/06/yelp-defeats-legal-challenge-to-its-user-review-filter/

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