Angie’s List offers consumers a listing of local service providers (plumbers, carpenters, masseuses, dentists, mechanics, etc.) along with reviews, rankings, and ratings. The beauty of Angie’s List is that it allows consumers who have already had experience with particular service providers to post reviews about them. Consumers pay a monthly fee to become members and get access to these supposedly unbiased reviews before hiring a service provider.
The class action alleges that, instead of providing unbiased and unfiltered information, Angie’s List secretly manipulates the information it posts for the company’s own economic gain.
According to Angie’s List, a service provider’s position in a member’s search results “is determined by their recent grades and number of reviews. Companies with the best ratings from members will appear first.” It also assures consumers that “service providers cannot influence their ratings on Angie’s List,” and that businesses and companies can’t pay to be on the list. Angie’s List claims it places the interests of the consumer first, and that it “simply acts a passive conduit” for reviews and ratings based upon actual first-hand experiences other users have had.
The plaintiff alleges that, in fact, service providers can and do pay to influence their reviews, rankings, and ratings, in at least three ways.
First, the plaintiff alleges that service providers can pay to appear higher up in members’ search results. For example, a plumber with an A rating and all positive reviews who did not pay “advertising” fees may rank lower than a plumber who did pay such fees but has worse reviews or ratings. One investigation report alleges that the best-reviewed heating and air company in its area was ranked below eleven others that had inferior ratings or few reviews. This best-reviewed service provider claimed that Angie’s List had asked it to pay $12,000-$15,000 for ranking at the top of the list.
Second, the plaintiff alleges that service providers can pay to suppress negative reviews, so that these reviews do not appear in members’ search results. Members are therefore not getting the objective assessment that Angie’s List promises to give them.
Third, the plaintiff alleges that Angie’s List threatens to suppress positive reviewers of service providers unless they pay “advertising” fees. This also prevents members from making an accurate assessment of the service providers.
Angie’s List promises unfiltered reviews, ratings, and rankings, driven entirely by consumer opinion. The class action alleges that it does not provide this, so that it defrauds its members. It alleges that Angie’s List does not help members find the best service providers, but rather those who have paid the most to Angie’s List.