Here’s a little gem about Angie’s List that I just (quite literally!) stumbled upon: Angie’s List has agreed upon a settlement in a class action suit about their deceptive rankings practice. By now you surely know that when you search for, say, a plumber in your neighborhood, the order in which the listings appear does not reflect the exuberance with which customers rhapsodize about their plumbers but rather the amount the vendors are willing to pay Angie’s List.
Yes. You pay to get your business to appear at the top of the search results.
Don’t believe me? Less than ten days ago, a business owner filed this report at Consumer Affairs:
As a business, we get multiple calls per month to advertise with Angie’s in order to put our business in the spotlight. We do not advertise our business on Angie’s List. 3 top complaints: We received a negative review. I researched all the information provided in the review, I could not find the customer or address in our database. I’m not sure if someone accidentally posted to the wrong company or if someone was deliberately posting a false review. When I called A.L. to discuss, they said if they cannot reach the reviewer, they cannot remove the review. Eventually it was removed;
I saw a review that did not make sense. I spoke to our customer who wrote the review and she said A.L. contacted her and said to stay at a lower subscription price, she was required to make a certain number of reviews. So she quickly posted reviews to meet her requirements; Most recently, we received a call saying effective August 1, 2016, that our company will have minimal visibility. This is because we do not advertise with Angie’s List.
The beginning purpose of the company was homeowner based, driven by homeowners that paid a fee to write a review for the sake of other homeowners. Then it was about which businesses paid for more exposure. Now, to make things even worse, non subscriber “homeowner” users can comment which opens A.L. to abuse of the ratings system by an unlimited number of false reviews.
—b. of Pittsburgh, PA, on August 16, 2016
These points dovetail neatly with what my painter told me, a couple years ago, about what he has to pay to get himself listed in the first few pages of an A.L. search.
So I had already decided, earlier this year, not to re-up for Angie’s list when the subscription comes up for renewal in December.
Then, along comes an e-mail from Angie’s List informing me that they’re changing their terms of service to accommodate a new system whereby you have to choose from several “plans” to get a specific level of access to reviews and data. Of course, the more you want to know about a vendor, the more you have to pay… And the new ToS included some onerous privacy invasions, too.
First off, I see that they have automatically enrolled me in the priciest plan!
Then, come to find out, in order to finish out the year I’ve already paid for, I have to click “I accept” the obnoxious new ToS!!!
I don’t think so.
So I contact their chat staff and tell them I wish to discontinue my service and want a refund.
Saying I’m done with Angie’s List launches an aggressive campaign to keep me from leaving. They now demand that I explain myself: why exactly do I want to leave? Daring to say you don’t trust them and you resent being co-opted into an expensive new “plan” launches still more resistance. Finally I think I get rid of them.
But no. Yesterday I find them still pestering me.
During yesterday’s exchange, I said I wanted a prorated refund of the amount I paid last December. It’s only August, so they have four months worth of “dues” that I will not be able to use — even if I wanted to. Another lengthy argument ensues. I have to contact chat personoids twice. The second one tells me they have refunded the money to my credit card.
Now A.L.’s machinery sends me a form email reporting that they’ve refunded $9.17, all right: to my defunct Costco AMEX card. And since I resisted being switched to Citigroup, that means they threw $9.17 into a black hole.
I contact another chatbot. She informs me that they have to refund to the “channel” through which it was paid. I say there is no channel. She says oh, don’t worry: it’ll just show up on your Citigroup Visa. I say I don’t have a CG Visa. She is now stymied and basically says, not in so many words, so go fuck yourself.
THEN to add insult to injury, along comes a machine generated “survey” again demanding that I explain myself and asking how I liked their customer service!!!!!
So I tell them how I liked their customer service, none too graciously, and go about my business.
Within an hour, along comes an e-mail containing THIS communiqué:
Current or former members of Angie’s List, Inc. may benefit from a proposed Class Action Settlement.
To login and file your Claim on the Settlement Website, please use the Member ID Number and PIN Number, shown below.
Member ID Number: NNN9258
PIN Number: 888P68KAJ7
A proposed settlement has been reached with Angie’s List, Inc. (“Angie’s List”) in connection with three putative class action lawsuits focusing on Angie’s List’s acceptance of advertising payments from service providers, and whether those payments affect service providers’ letter-grade ratings, reviews, and place in search-result rankings. Angie’s List denies Plaintiffs’ claims, including denying that advertising revenue can affect ratings or the content of reviews in any way and asserting that it discloses that it receives revenue from certain service providers who are rated highly by members and further discloses that such revenue can affect the order of search-result rankings under certain settings. The Court has not decided who is right. In order to avoid the expense and risks of continuing the lawsuit, the Parties agreed to a proposed class settlement.
Who’s Included? You received this email because Angie’s List’s records show that you may be a member of the Settlement Class. You are a member of the Settlement Class if you were a paying member of Angie’s List at any time between March 11, 2009, and July 12, 2016.
What Are the Settlement Terms? Settlement Class Members who submit a timely and valid Claim Form may choose: (1) an estimated cash payment of $5 and/or $10 (subject to a possible pro rata adjustment upwards or downwards) depending on the timing of their membership and the number of valid Claims submitted; or (2) one free month of membership to Angie’s List for each full year he or she paid for membership during the relevant periods (up to a maximum limit). Angie’s List also has agreed to expand upon the disclosures about service provider advertising made in its Frequently Asked Questions on its website and in its Membership Agreement.
How Can I Get a Payment or Membership Benefit? You can quickly file a Claim online at www.MoorevALsettlement.com or by clicking here. You can also download and print the Claim Form from the website. You must file your Claim Form so that it is received (if submitted electronically) or postmarked (if submitted by mail) by November 15, 2016.
Your Other Options. If you do not want to be legally bound by the settlement, you must exclude yourself by October 24, 2016. If you do not exclude yourself, you will release any claims you may have against Angie’s List, as more fully described in the Settlement Agreement, available at the Settlement Website. You may also object to the settlement by October 24, 2016. The Long Form Notice available on the website listed below explains how to exclude yourself or to object. The Court will hold a Hearing on December 5, 2016 to consider whether to approve the settlement and a request for payment of attorneys’ fees and expenses of no more than $937,500 and for service awards of $12,500 to be shared by the three class representatives. You may appear at the hearing, either yourself or through an attorney hired by you, but you don’t have to. For more information, call 1-888-293-9919, or visit the website listed below.
For more information about the settlement, please visit www.MoorevALsettlement.com, which includes a full copy of the Settlement Agreement and a more detailed description of the settlement and other important information. Please check the Settlement Website for updates and further information.
SOURCE: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Well. I think it’s spam, of course: some sort of phishing. So I look it up on the Internet, and by golly! It is the real thing. Shoofing around, I discover that about what you’ll get back is $10.
But that’s fine. It covers the amount Angie’s List owes me.
If you’re an Angie’s List member, you may be entitled to a little something for the deception they worked on you, too: here’s the place to file a claim: https://www.moorevalsettlement.com/Home/SubmitClaim
Deadline is November 15.