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Yelp’s Consumer Protection Initiative: Empowering Our Users

Since 2004, Yelp’s number one priority has been to connect consumers with great local businesses by giving them access to reliable and useful information, and empowering them to make informed decisions. Every day millions of people use Yelp to decide which local business to patronize – whether it’s where to grab lunch, which plumber to use, or where to get your next check-up.

As consumers grow increasingly reliant on their smartphones, they increasingly expect the most accurate and up-to-date information to be available to them on-demand. Yelp users have come to rely on us for all manner of information about local businesses and protect them from misinformation, which is why we’ve rolled out several programs over the years as part of our Consumer Protection Initiative.

Behind the scenes, we are constantly working to bring the most important information to the forefront for consumers across our platform. From making health data readily accessible to protecting consumers’ rights to free speech, we work to benefit both consumers and businesses alike by adding more information into the marketplace.

Consumer Alerts

We introduced our Consumer Alerts program back in 2012 to warn people when we see brazen attempts to manipulate ratings and reviews. As of early 2019, we’ve issued more than 1,500 Consumer Alerts. And while our automated recommendation software does a great job weeding out unreliable reviews so users don’t have to, we also rely on our community of users to help flag reviews and tip us off to any suspicious behavior they experience from a business.

These were the first alerts we set in place back in 2012 as part of the Consumer Alerts program:

  • Purchasing and/or Incentivizing People for Reviews: These alerts appear if we receive evidence from a consumer or other tips that a business is trying to pay for new or updated reviews, or for the removal of reviews. The Federal Trade Commission states that reviewers who receive incentives, even if no money is exchanged, should disclose this information because it affects the credibility of their recommendation.
  • Writing Reviews From the Same IP Address: These alerts appear when we find an unusual number of positive reviews originating from the same IP address, a common tactic used to artificially inflate a business’s rating.

Then in 2015, we expanded the Consumer Alerts program to target other types of deceptive behavior and situations where consumers can use additional context:

  • Deceptive Behavior: These alerts appear when we encounter evidence that a business may be connected with a group of businesses that engage in efforts to manipulate their reputation on Yelp. Most recently, we alerted consumers of more than 100 shady moving companies across the U.S. on Yelp.
  • Media-Fueled Reviews: We alert consumers when the reviews on a business’s page appear to be motivated more by a recent news event than by an actual consumer experience (e.g., when a politician visits your favorite pizzeria, it tends to generate a lot of media interest and a lot of reviews that have nothing to do with the quality of the pizza).
  • Threatening Reviewers with Legal Action: We alert consumers when a business is attempting to abuse the legal system and suppress free speech. Reviewers who share their experiences, both positive and negative, have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.

Restaurant Health Scores

In 2013, we continued our quest to make more information available to consumers by launching the LIVES program to bring hygiene scores to Yelp restaurant pages. The program began in San Francisco, expanded to roughly 20 municipalities and states, and in July 2018, we began a national roll-out of the LIVES program as we integrated HDScores’ full database, covering more than 1 million restaurants and food service establishments across 42 states.

Why are hygiene scores important? A study of the Los Angeles restaurant industry found that when consumers have better access to restaurant hygiene scores, the number of hospitalizations due to foodborne illness drops, and best practices improve across the industry.

As an extension of our LIVES program, we also have a Poor Food Safety Score Alert to warn consumers of restaurants with hygiene scores in the bottom 1% locally. A 2018 study found that posting restaurant hygiene scores prominently on Yelp leads to a 12% decrease in purchase intentions for restaurants with poor scores relative to those with higher scores. The study also found that restaurants that received a Poor Food Safety Score alert had a lower probability of getting a second alert.

Public Hospital Data

In 2015, we incorporated health care statistics and consumer opinion survey data onto the business pages of more than 25,000 medical treatment facilities. Just like restaurant hygiene scores, we believe access to medical information is crucial for consumers in times of critical life decisions. Every quarter, approximately 4,600 hospitals, 15,000 nursing homes, and 6,300 dialysis clinics in the U.S. are updated with current information.

In California, we also display maternity care data for more than 250 hospitals that deliver babies with the help of the California Health Care Foundation. As part of this partnership, we provide information on the rate of “low risk” C-sections, breastfeeding, episiotomy and VBACS, as well as the availability of VBACs.

Promoting and Protecting Free Speech

We regularly engage in advocacy work to protect the First Amendment rights of consumers because we believe in the ability for consumers to share their experiences online. In 2016, President Obama signed the “Right to Yelp Bill” (AKA the Consumer Review Fairness Act) into law, which prohibits inclusion of gag clauses in consumer form contracts. In 2015, we teamed up with lawmakers to introduce the SPEAK FREE Act because we oppose the use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation to silence consumers.

Keeping the Web Healthy and Competitive

We’d like to think that other big names in tech care as much about these issues as we do, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Google, for example, doesn’t have the same controls in place to protect consumers, and seems more focused on pushing its own monopolistic agenda than it does on focusing on the user:

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Our Consumer Protection Initiative continues to evolve as we make more information available to consumers and educate businesses on how best to interact with consumers on our platform. If there are other ways we can improve our consumer advocacy or if you encounter suspicious behavior from a business, please let us know here.