There may be more than meets the eye to those online restaurant reviews you’re reading. Via the Freedom of Information Act, MuckRock has obtained and released nearly 700 complaints filed to the Federal Trade Commission against Yelp.

The complaints come from both businesses and individuals, alleging that Yelp bullied businesses into buying advertising and skewed their reviews if they didn’t purchase ads with the site. Additionally, companies claimed Yelp refused to remove libelous reviews, which in turn hurt their business.

According to MuckRock, the complaints against Yelp amounted to nearly one being filed every two days.

Back in October, Yelp made a PR push to detail its crackdown on fake reviews, paid for by companies to post their scores.

“This is not acceptable behavior,” Vince Sollitto, Yelp’s vice president of corporate communications, told ABC News of the initiative. “Frankly, it’s not just unethical, but it’s probably illegal. And we think we need to let business owners know you can’t go out there and try to mislead your consumers.”

As it turns out, Yelp may want to review its internal practices as well.

The full FTC documents can be downloaded here, explained in further detailed in this article by MuckRock.

Below, we have included complaints from the FTC document below.

A Yelp sales person contacted me last week and asked me to buy some advertising….I told her that I will not advertise because it was a conflict of interest.   Today all positive reviews that have appeared on my site recently have been deleted and only the negative review stays as most recent. It is highlighted front and center. And will probably stay until I pay to become an advertiser. Advertisers get to “manage” their reviews and non advertisers can’t.   This is extortion in my opinion.

This company contacted me about reviews of my business on their website.  They said they could “help me improve my rating” if I were to spend $350 a month in advertising.  Since they are not the ones writing reviews, there is no way they could make this happen, unless they were to filter the bad reviews.  I feel like I am being blackmailed.

Couple of months ago I got a phone call from a Yelp.com sales representative (whose name was Mathew) offering me to advertise on Yelp.com for about $300 per week, which I of course refused. A couple of days later Yelp.com removed 42 of my companies’ reviews!!! Leaving us with only bad reviews.

Yelp is trying to extort money from me, as they have done with countless small business owners, who are just trying to stay afloat.  The moment I denied paying $350month for a year contract, they removed all good reviews, and negative reviews keep popping up.  I think I should be able to remove my business from the website (opt-out), and there is currently no way to do that.  Yelps reviews are ruining my business, and I feel that this should be illegal.

They were contacted last year by this company and asked them to adveritise [sic] with them. They said it would be $385 a month. She told them no and now their 5 star reviews are getting filtered. Now all they are putting out there for them are the  1 and 2 star reviews.

I had customers approach me wondering why their comments on Yelp weren’t being posted or that they would post for a few days then were deleted. I was astonished and confused by this. I didn’t know how to answer so I asked one of my customers who had reported this issue to try again. I went to his home where he has an account with Yelp set up. He tried to comment on Yelp about my business. The review posted but was removed the next day. It seems as though Yelp is deleting most of my positive feedback yet leaving the negative ones. I contacted Yelp on two separate occasions via e-mail and have received no response. I think it has something to do with advertisements, and my decision of opting out of paying Yelp for advertising.

My friend who owns a store, was contacted by Yelp to buy a $350 / month advertising package.When he said no, 2 of his 5 star reviews disappeared.Then he got another call from the sales person and he again declined.Then another 2 of his 5 star reviews disappeared.This kept happening until almost every 5 star review disappeared (more than 20!) and only his 1 3 star review and 1 one-star review remained (the only 2 reviews that weren’t 5 star).The 1 star review is the OLDEST review and so presumably least relevant.  Yelp says they try to remove reviews that are fraud.

The complaints, similar in nature to the ones above, go on and on.

Update 1:15 p.m.: I was pointed to this study by Yelp’s Director of Government Affairs, which looks at review manipulation on Yelp. The study concluded, among many things, that “Yelp does not seem to favor advertisers – at least by selective filtering.” You can read the full study here.

Have you ever experienced a problem with Yelp reviews?

[h/t Eater National]