The online rating portal Yelp may continue to base its overall star rating of companies on an automated selection. The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Karlsruhe judged in the dispute between an operator of several fitness studios and the evaluation platform. The former world champion in bodybuilding and fitness studio operator Renate Holland had sued the rating portal because she found the grading system unfair. Holland had previously brought an action before the Higher Regional Court (OLG) in Munich and was right in 2018. The judges had decided that sorting out many evaluations would not create a helpful, but rather a distorted overall picture. Holland was awarded damages. In addition, Yelp was prohibited from further evaluating its studios according to the previous procedure.

The decision of the BGH annuls the judgment of the OLG. The BGH Senate is convinced that the plaintiff's legally protected interests do not outweigh Yelp's legitimate interests. The rating of reviews made on Yelp in "recommended" and "not recommended" is protected by the freedom of profession and freedom of expression. "A trader has to accept criticism of his performance and the public discussion of criticism," said the presiding judge Stephan Seiters.

Favorability assessments and counterfeits should be sorted out

Users can rate restaurants, service providers and shops on Yelp. You can assign one star to five stars, and you can also write a text. However, not all assessments are included in the overall assessment. Automated software identifies the "recommended reviews" that Yelp considers particularly helpful or authentic. According to Yelp, the selection criteria include, for example, the quality, trustworthiness and previous activity of the user. The filter is supposed to sort out compliments and fakes. But posts by users who are not well known and therefore not recommended are also sorted out.

"My studios suffer from it," said plaintiff Holland last November. "And I don't let my good work and my life's work be ruined either. They don't know their own algorithm," she said at the negotiation.

Yelp said an average of three quarters of all reviews would be rated as recommended. At Holland, however, one of their studios was awarded 2.5 stars in February 2014 based on only two reviews. 74 mostly very positive contributions were disregarded. Usually she would have 4 to 4.5 stars in every studio, Holland said. Posts that Yelp does not recommend can still be read. To do this, users must scroll to the page under and click a link there.

According to Yelp lawyer Stephan Zimprich, other offerings also do the same. It is important that there is a mechanism that separates the good from the bad. "Otherwise, the consumer would be vulnerable to manipulation on the Internet." Yelp makes few of the criteria by which "recommended reviews" are selected public. According to Zimperich, there would be no other way. "If I know how to filter, I can ensure that even manipulated posts are manipulated in such a way that they get through the filter."