(Alleged) Racketeering is big business.

 
 

(Alleged) Racketeering is big business.

Today brings the news that The Los Angeles Better Business Bureau chapter has been expelled by the national organization and can no longer use the name or logo.

This comes after a two year investigation in which the BBB was caught with its pants down, i.e. "of accrediting new members and awarding them inflated ratings in exchange for cash," according to the L.A. Times.

But wait! Get a load of this:

In 2010, a group of Los Angeles business owners that had been critical of the BBB conducted a sting operation by paying dues for fake companies, including one named after the Palestinian organization, Hamas, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist group.

The fake businesses were all accredited and given ratings, according to the ABC News report. Hamas received an A-minus rating.

The L.A. chapter of the BBB obviously had no recourse but to defend itself, kinda. And then also resign. Because really what else can you do when you get caught in this situation if you're actually guilty? It means they're not even vetting the businesses, let alone reading the names. Just taking the cash and running. Reputation: tarnished.

But it's not like you care about the Better Business Bureau. No, you moved on to Yelp, right? Because Yelp is community driven or some such, right? The People's Review Site.

Sure it is.

Back in November, Consumerist posted an article entitled Here’s Why You Should Ignore The Yelp Star Rating And Always Read Filtered Reviews that doesn't exactly make Yelp out to be a shining example of objectivity either.

Yelp's known for filtering reviews. Why? Due to some algorithm. Or something. According to Consumerist, this consignment shop in Colorado shows exactly two of fifty two (!) reviews. Both two featured reviews are negative while the majority of hidden ones are positive.

While it is known that some owners will skewer reviews in their favor, that's not true in every last case. And while a judge dismissed two lawsuits by businesses against Yelp that suggested the company was screwing with content in an attempt to "extort advertising revenues," one still has to question how transparent their motives are.

Especially when accusations of extortion for advertising revenue keep popping up. Again. And again. And over here. And here, too.

I suppose one can't be surprised. The norm now goes like this: VC funded company crowdsources or steals content from the people, doesn't pay them for said content in the name of "exposure." But they charge for ads, because the content, original, stolen, remixed or otherwise, gets lots of "eyeballs." (See Huffpo, Buzzfeed, Yelp, The Atlantic, etc.)

While a lot of people (not us) are resigned to this smarmy practice, companies like the now defunct Better Business Bureau of L.A. and Yelp have a brand new very old card up their sleeves. Racketeering. Sorry, alleged racketeering. If one of these lawsuits against Yelp ever sticks, and if it is ever proven they are knowingly filtering out the good reviews from businesses that aren't buying ad space, then it's no different from days of yore when restaurant owners paid "protection money" to the Mafia.

The only difference is, if it ever does get proven in court, the protection money wouldn't be to guard against a fire or a brick in the wall, but to guard against the practice of hiding reviews.

So there you are. The BBB and Yelp. One is new media. The other old. Both have allegations of corruptness leveled at them. In either case, it seems no one is policing the police that well.

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