Long Beach vet suing Yelp
SAN FRANCISCO A Long Beach veterinarian is leading a series of anti extortion lawsuits against Yelp, the popular Web site that allows people to post opinions about restaurants, shops and local services. The lawsuits claim Yelp pressures small businesses to advertise with the site in exchange for getting negative reviews squashed. Dr. Greg Perrault, owner of Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital on Redondo Avenue, filed the first lawsuit Feb. 23 in federal court, alleging Yelp engaged in extortion and attempted extortion. In the filing, Perrault said Yelp salespeople pressured him to purchase $3,600 worth of advertising shortly after a negative review by “Kay K” appeared, claiming “Dr. Perrault is the rudest vet I’ve ever been to . probably one of the rudest people I’ve had the displeasure of meeting.” Perrault alleges the Yelp salesman told him that by advertising, the company could “hide” negative reviews, allow Cats and Dogs to determine the order of reviews and ensure they didn’t appear on search engines like Google. One day after he refused, Perrault claims a second defamatory comment from “Kay K” appeared, this time calling him a “jerk, D Bag, and so ar Jack Wolfskin rogant . Don’t spend the money on this overpriced errogent (sic) vet. It’s not worth it!” Perrault then researched Yelp and found similar claims by business owners in the Oakland area, prompting him to file the suit. Yelp denies the extortion claims, but exactly what happened may never be clear. And regardless of what happens in court, the lawsuits could taint Yelp’s reputation as a leader in online reviews. The Web site has faced many complaints since it began letting consumers post reviews about local businesses ranging from all you can eat buffets to zip line operators six years ago. Businesses have often complained about how reviews on the site positive or negative can mysteriously disappear and reappear. Perrault’s was the first of at least three lawsuits seeking class action status against the site by a dozen businesses complaining that reviews are manipulated depending on which companies advertise on the site and which ones do not. The Cats and Dogs lawsuit was amended in March to add nine more companies some Yelp advertisers, some not. It alleges Yelp sales representatives indicated to businesses that they could alter site listings to help advertisers and harm nonadvertisers, and that Yelp has actually done so. Perrault alleges in his court filing that after rec Jack Wolfskin eiving negative reviews he started getting calls from Yelp, informing him that if he advertised Yelp would hide or lower negative reviews on his page and let him choose the order of the reviews. Perrault said he decided not to advertise, and a week later a negative review that had disappeared from Jack Wolfskin his page reappeared. He also received a second negative review from someone who had previously written one, he said. Yelp refused his request that the reviews be removed, he said. The lawsuit seeks an order barring Yelp from manipulating reviews and forcing the company to return money reaped “by means of its wrongful acts and practices,” along with unspecified damages. At least two simil Jack Wolfskin ar lawsuits have been filed: One by Christine LaPuasky of D’ames Day Spa in Imperial Beach, on March 3 in the same district court, and one by Boris Levitt of Renaissance Furniture Restoration in San Francisco on March 12 in San Francisco Superior Court. In an interview, Yelp co founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said that the businesses suing his company don’t understand how Yelp works. Yelp says some reviews might come and go because it relies on an automated program to weigh reviews and filter out ones that might be untrustworthy, such as a negative review a spa owner might write about a competitor. Yelp says it does nothing to manipulate reviews, aside from allowing advertisers to choose one review they would like to feature at the top of the page about their business. Stoppelman said the automated filter has helped Yelp stay relevant to consumers, even though it frustrates some businesses. Besides running Cats and Dogs, Perrault serves as a commissioner on the city’s Board of Health and Human Services and pens a monthly column for the Grunion Gazette. He also works with community activist Justin Rudd, providing free first aid for events like the Haute Dog Howl’O Ween Parade and other animal related events.