Many people were surprised by our story yesterday about a 9th Circuit ruling in favor of Yelp's advertising practices, saying that even if plaintiffs could prove the company had manipulated reviews and star ratings in exchange for paid ads, it wouldn't be doing anything illegal. The accusations that Yelp's business model may be based on extortion have been floating around since 2009, but have never held water in court. Two current lawsuits, which you can read about here and here, might change that. SFist reader and small business owner Lisa Goodman wrote us a letter about her experience with Yelp and how she's watched the site hurt other local businesses. With her permission, we are reprinting Goodman's letter below:

Dear Jay and tips,

Thank you for this article.

I hope Yelp is not in the clear, they shouldn’t be.

They call us ad nauseum to advertise with them, we’re a small landscaping company in Berkeley. We don’t advertise, never have, so when we decline or don’t return their barrage of calls, they take away a couple reviews. This is nothing compared to a small upholstery shop, Laszlo’s European Upholstery, with whom we do business with in Berkeley. Two scathingly bad reviews are viewable, and underneath them, barely noticeable is:

25 other reviews that are not currently recommended

There you find positive reviews, where my review is. I’ve left many reviews on Yelp, there’s no reason mine is not included.

This can seriously hurt a business.

This is extortion and I am sorry the 9th Circuit ruled as they have. I sincerely hope Yelp gets nailed for false advertising. Most people think they’re reading trusted and unobstructed reviews.

Thanks again,

Lisa Goodman