Society

Yelp Should Not Be Liable For Ratings On Site

| by Mark Jones
Guests received Yelp balloons at a company celebration. Guests received Yelp balloons at a company celebration.

Yelp should not have to claim full liability for the content posted to its website.

Yelp is the self-proclaimed, “best way to find great local businesses.”  The business review platform allows users to log in and rate local businesses on a five-star scale. Users may post written reviews of the businesses, as well.

Because the reviews come from members of the community, the reviews are candid. Some small business owners have an issue with this.

On Sept. 12, federal courts dismissed a lawsuit filed by a business owner from Washington who received a negative review on Yelp.

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Locksmith Douglas Kimzey claimed that Yelp user “Sarah K” wrongfully gave his business a one-star rating out of a possible five. She included a statement that said Kimzey’s business was slow to respond to a vehicle lockout, according to ABC.

Kimzey told courts that business traffic decreased by 95 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“If you have a one-star rating, people won't go near it,” said Kimzey.

“They don't care if you've been in business for one week or 25 years,” he added.

Courts dismissed Kimzey, who represented himself in court.  Presiders called his argument “threadbare,” and decided that Yelp does not need to be held accountable for the content published on its website, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“We fail to see how Yelp's rating system, which is based on rating inputs from third parties and which reduces this information into a single, aggregate metric is anything other than user-generated data,” said Judge Margaret McKeown.

McKeown and other judges on the panel are justified in their ruling. The 1996 Communications Decency Act allows websites to provide “neutral tools” for users to post content online, according to ABC. Had courts decided to rule any other way, they would have violated a 20-year-old policy.

Furthermore, Yelp blatantly tells users that posts are the responsibility of those who upload content to the site.

“You alone are responsible for Your Content, and once published, it cannot always be withdrawn. You assume all risks associated with Your Content, including anyone's reliance on its quality, accuracy, or reliability,” reads part of Yelp’s Terms of Service.

The Terms of Service goes on to say, “You may not imply that Your Content is in any way sponsored or endorsed by Yelp.”

Yelp states that it does not endorse or try to sabotage any small businesses. Therefore, it should not have to claim liability for the reviews on its site.

Despite this logic, however, Kimzey is not alone in thinking that the website is unfair.

On July 27, Steve Davis posted an online petition against Yelp. Davis wants to ban Yelp from search engine results, according to his Move On petition page.

Davis says that he received a one-star rating, as well and as a result, his business has suffered.

“I have no problem at all with legitimate reviews of a business, but Yelp is not interested in the truth. They are predatory with a clear conflict of interest,” said Davis.

Davis, Kimzey, and other business owners with similar arguments must realize that Yelp is a platform for customer opinions.  Opinions are not factual statements, and it is up to the reader of the reviews to decide whether to trust the review or not.

Yelp does not claim to be a provider of facts. Rather, it is a platform for users to post their reviews of restaurants, services, and other businesses online. Customers have a right to exercise their rights to freedom of speech in this way. Yelp has a right provide them with the “neutral tools” to do so. 

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: ABC, Move On, Yelp (2), Chicago Tribune / Photo credit: Laura Northrup/Flickr

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