By Tammy Flores
August 27th Edition
How influenced are you by sites like Yelp when purchasing a product or using a service? That was a question I asked social media expert and online personality “Urgo”. He didn’t say how much he was influenced by the reviews he read online, but did say it was a service he used mostly when he was traveling.
How reliable are the reviews we read on sites like Yelp? It has come to my attention that like with any review you read on line, the devil is in the details. Companies like Yelp rely on advertising dollars to survive. If you are “big business” like 407 ETR, you can pay the company for advertising and negative reviews seem to disappear and you get strong ratings. For smaller businesses, that can’t afford the advertising dollars, companies like Yelp manipulate the algorithms so that negative reviews are sensationalized and the ratings suffer. It’s a tactic to bully the small business owner into paying for advertising, putting the small business at a disadvantage to compete in a competitive marketplace.
I have tried to leave my review on Yelp about what I thought of the company that ran Canada’s first open access toll highway, Highway 407, and my review was never published by Yelp. I thought that wasn’t fair because people need to know the risks they take when using this highway, but I never really gave it much thought until I came across a petition by Rachel Craggy on change.org.
Rachel Craggy is looking to have some legislation passed that would regulate online review companies such as Yelp. The petition is called “STOP VIOLATING OUR FREEDOM TO CHOOSE, WE LIVE IN A “FREE” COUNTRY”. In there she reveals how difficult it is for small businesses to compete when companies like Yelp highjack their listing. The petition calls for legislation that would allow the business owner to have the freedom to choose where it is to be listed.
I support online community based organizations such as Open Media that advocates for the internet to remain open and works toward informed and participatory digital policy by protecting our online rights. Having said that, is the internet really open if a company can buy its way to the top and manipulate what you see? As a consumers advocate I support a fair marketplace free from unfair business practices, fraud and misrepresentation. If a business is gaining an advantage by manipulating information people have access too, that’s not a fair marketplace. Allowing a business to pay their way to the top isn’t fair trade. Consumers have the right to make informed choices and if those informed choices are made based on manipulated information, I’d say lawmakers have a job to do to make sure consumers’ rights are protected as we move forward in this digital age.