Lawsuits accuse Yelp of manipulating reviews

Litigation is casting a shadow over Yelp, the popular review site that has long been a make-or-break factor for businesses.

Lawsuits have cropped up in several cities across the U.S. alleging that Yelp removes reviews to punish or reward businesses based on whether they advertise on the site.

In a nutshell: Some business owners say positive reviews have disappeared after they’ve refused the advances of Yelp representatives seeking advertising contracts. Others insist that Yelp offers to remove negative reviews as a favor to advertisers — or at least move negative reviews down the results list.

Yelp denies it’s playing favorites. The site’s chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman called the lawsuits frivolous and said some people just don’t understand how Yelp works.

“The allegations are disappointing, not only because they are false, but because they ignore empirical evidence in favor of conspiracy theories,” Stoppelman wrote in a blog post.

What does all this mean for Yelp? Regardless of how these lawsuits play out, the negative publicity could be costly for for the San Francisco-based company.

I was eating out with a friend last week, and she expressed a strong opinion about the restaurant I chose.

I told her to go tell it to Yelp.

“I don’t know — does Yelp really matter anymore?” she asked.

You tell me.

— Amy Rolph, www.heraldnet.com/storefront

Boeing CEO makes WSJ’s top-10 list for pay

The Boeing Co.’s Jim McNerney is the tenth-highest paid chief executive in the country, according to a Wall Street Journal study.

Boeing paid McNerney $16.8 million in total compensation last year. But that’s chump change compared to the $52.2 million Occidental Petroleum paid its chief executive Ray R. Irani last year. The second highest paid CEO, Disney’s Robert Iger, didn’t even make half of Irani’s total compensation, bringing in $20.8 million.

The publication looked at the compensation of 200 of the nation’s top companies.

— Michelle Dunlop, www.heraldnet.com/aerospaceblog

Why isn’t your company hiring?

Nearly 1 in 10 Americans is out of work, for the simple reason that businesses aren’t hiring.

But nothing’s ever that simple — not really. Every business has a story, a different reason that it’s unable to take on new employees.

I want to know: Why isn’t your business hiring? What would have to change to make that “help wanted” sign go up in the window again?

Tell me your reason, and your company could be featured on The Storefront or in the Herald. E-mail me at arolph@ heraldnet.com.

— Amy Rolph

Senators urge Obama to act on trade dispute

Eight U.S. senators, including Washington state’s Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, have called upon President Barack Obama to take action in a trade dispute between the Boeing Co. and Airbus.

The World Trade Organization recently finalized a ruling that says Airbus received unfair government launch aid for some of its commercial aircraft programs. The WTO, however, does not impose sanctions.

“For decades, U.S. aerospace workers have had to compete against a company that has benefitted from illegal subsidies across virtually every one of its commercial airplanes. … The subsidies helped drive Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas out of the commercial airplane business and cut Boeing’s global market share from nearly 67 percent in 1999 to 47 percent in 2004,” the senators wrote in their letter to Obama.

Airbus has a similar claim pending with the WTO against Boeing in which the European company alleges Boeing also received illegal subsidies. The WTO is expected to give an initial ruling on that case this summer.

“How the United States reacts to the WTO ruling will determine if this country will continue to have a robust and vibrant aerospace industrial base in the future,” the senators wrote.

The lawmakers also urged Obama to move forward on the U.S. Air Force aerial refueling tanker contest in which Boeing plans to offer a 767-based tanker. EADS, parent company of Airbus, is considering whether it will bid, using an A330-based tanker. The A330 is believed to be one of the aircraft for which Airbus received unfair launch aid.

— Michelle Dunlop

Loan scams target small businesses

Borrower beware. The Small Business Administration is warning against scams related to small-business borrowing, including dubious marketing practices and exorbitant fees charged by firms who say they can help with loan applications.

Here’s what the SBA says to watch out for:

  • Firms charging small businesses high fees to provide assistance applying to SBA funding programs. Some firms allegedly guaranteed that the small business would obtain SBA funding if they paid the fee.

    Firms charging small businesses for services never requested after the small business gave bank account and routing information to a caller claiming to be a firm offering assistance.

    Firms alleging that a small business would be issued a “forfeiture letter” that would make the small business ineligible for any SBA funding for three years if the small business refused to use the firm’s services.

    — Amy Rolph