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Apparently Yelp has a no-fly list (chriszf.posterous.com)
269 points by chriszf on July 26, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 114 comments

If they had the guest list beforehand, they had a responsibility to inform you of this issue before the trip. Putting you on the spot forced you into making a crappy decision either way you went with it.

I personally would have yanked all the students out and explained why and exactly why you were all leaving to someone in authority if this couldn't be cleared up, further that it was going to go up on the Internet, but my personal bias stems from years of being excluded from things for no obvious reason as a kid.

Think about what benefit that would give the other class members, though. None. All they would be feeling is that they missed a lecture they wanted to be at and should be at.

It's sad for the student who could not attend, that is obvious. That's Yelp's fault. But these kids aren't kids. If they wanted to stand on principle and leave the presentation, they could make that call. But the decision to pull the whole class from the conference shouldn't be up to the teacher of a college class populated by adults.

Throw a shitstorm at Yelp, yes, but if I were in that class and the teacher told me to get back on the bus, I'm under no obligation to listen to him. And I likely would have stayed, almost equally as upset at the poor behavior of the instructor. The way Chris handled the situation was about as good as you can get under the unfortunate circumstances.

If I was the teacher I would have just taken everyone for Ice Cream and use the time to teach the students.

Hey guys! I am the student in question. As someone else said, we are all adults (in our 20's and 30's) and I wasn't hurt/isolated/crushed/etc. when our teacher didn't come with me. In fact he's a wonderful teacher and person, and instead of protesting against security (who doesn't care), he posted this, which gained a lot more attention.

It turns out someone causing problems at numerous Yelp events has the same name as myself and they were on the "no-fly" list. I'd say the security needs some improvement, as they couldn't tell the difference between us after checking my government-issued ID.

Thanks for all the discussion.

> But here I was, helpless. The only thing I could do was direct her to BART and join the rest of the class inside

... or pull the class out and refuse to attend it out of principle?

I had another 9 students inside, and the talk was worthwhile for them. Furthermore, the problem was not with the organizers (who were generous and accommodating) or the speakers (who were similarly generous), but with the venue. Nothing would have been solved by protesting: I'm not important enough that anyone would have noticed.

You would have demonstrated that moral authority is on the side of the student who was wronged. It doesn't matter whether or not they change their policy, what matters is that you went along with excluding a student for no reason.

EDIT: Sorry, this came off a bit too personally. I'm a teacher too and I got angry when I read this story. I'll just say more generically that it is easily possible (and justifiable) for a student to feel alienated after a situation like this, especially if they feel like their educator didn't stand up for them. Whether or not "standing up for them" involves canceling the entire trip is a contextual issue, and I really don't know if it would have been a good idea in this case.

I don't get the teacher-blaming here.

Imagine you're a student in that class; you're stoked to see this talk, but one of your classmates can't get in. You feel terrible but you've been looking forward to this. If the teacher decides to "stick it to the man", you and 8 other of your classmates miss out and possibly become bitter towards the excluded one because of Yelp's security measures.

His having to direct her to the nearest transit might seem cold, but he was responsible for all of those students, and he was trying to offer them an experience they would grow from. I would have been incredibly bummed if I were her, but it wasn't anyone in her group's fault and they shouldn't have missed an opportunity to learn because the teacher decided he wanted to take some sort of personal, "Yeah, well I'll show you!" stand.

What kind of students are we talking about here? I assume they're not explaining how Pinterest is scaling to eighth-graders. If we're talking about adults here -- and apparently just 10 of them --, why not let them quickly huddle together and figure it out?

Regardless of age, I'd assume they'd rather take notes [on her behalf] than not attend.

I think this is not so much teacher blaming as wishing to put additional pressure on Yelp for being terrible dickheads, via those teachers. If nobody ever stands up to bullies they just keep doing their thing.

I understand why you disagree, but I don't think there's an obvious right answer here, it sucks either way. I don't think you're in a position to pass judgement unless you were actually there and knew the students personally. What if this would have made the rest of the class resent the one student? That would be a far more damaging outcome in my mind.

Isn't this the kind of mentality that is 'dangerous'?

"Why vote, I'm just 1 vote. It's not going to make any difference."

And you said you're not important enough that anyone would have noticed? So all the 'unimportant' people, when faced with difficult choices, should just roll over and go with the flow? (Not saying you made the wrong/right choice, but your reasoning is off.)

While you had to weigh a group of students' benefit from the talk against 1 missing out on some talk, this also could've been an opportunity for you to teach your students to a different kind of lesson.

I hate to say it but leaving a student alone waiting is pretty shitty.

I agree. This is the place to take a stand. It seems minor and annoying, but when we overlook minor violations like this, they soon evolve into major ones.

Another option would be to leave with the student, and let your other "kids" stay if they want to.

That's a pretty shitty experience, to be the only one who can't get in and have to walk away alone. A little solidarity would have gone a long way.

And it was worthwhile enough to tacitly agree to such a policy?

Edit: read your comment in a separate post. It would have been worthwhile not to abridge all the context out of your story.

Your problem is actually with the organizers. You don't care a bit about random venues except for where organizers of events you are likely to attend decide to use them, I would guess. Therefore, if you have a problem with the venue, you should take it to the organizers, and take it up with them at the time, e.g. by leaving with your student, because wrangling the venue is what they're doing as organizers setting up an event.

Other venues are much more reasonable about this sort of thing. I have a friend who is banned from all Microsoft buildings, including non-Microsoft events hosted by Microsoft. He was informed clearly in writing, and knew the reason for his being banned. That makes Microsoft-operated venues more appealing (on at least this axis) than Yelp ones, since organizers of an event can't be sure that attendees will actually be able to enter. In the Microsoft case, at least a person seemingly knows whether they can attend.

What if they refused to let her in because she was black?

Here they are practically claiming she is a terrorist. The principle is the same.

By sending her out you validate their discrimination, which is based on falsehoods and lies.

  What if [..]
We can all sketch awful situations in which the appropriate course of action is obvious. This is not one of those cases.

  By sending her out you validate their discrimination [..]
No, you acknowledge they have authority in the situation.

You should give the venue a negative review on Yelp.

Yelp wasn't gaining anything by people attending. The attendees were gaining by attending (I would love to hear how Pinterest scaled). Should the whole class be punished for Yelp's stupidity?

Now, if Yelp gained anything other than "they gave us a spot to meet", I would agree with you 100%. I would give them no benefit for being moronic.

"Yelp wasn't gaining anything by people attending"

Yelp doesn't host these events purely out of the goodness of its heart -- these are recruiting events. They also give Yelp employees preferential access to the speakers.

If people don't go to events at Yelp, people don't host events at Yelp.

I guess that the silver lining is that a young person starts to be switched on about how humiliating and insulting it is to be screwed by idiotic authorities and their pathetic rules.

Every young person is switched onto that. It's the only useful thing some schools teach.

Yes it was; Yelp is recruiting.

Yelp's stupidity can teach your whole class about the importance of working for conscientious, thoughtful corporations. Arguably, that's a more valuable lesson than whatever tricks pinterest used to scale (but I'm old, so take that with a grain of salt).

and how old are these students? Pointing someone in the direction of public transportation and telling them to go sounds irresponsible. I get the author was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Certainly there was a better resolution...

Of course, there is no context in the story, so it is hard to say...

As a student in this class I would like to clarify by saying we're all adults, the class is an accelerated software development program. The student who was kept out of yelp is in her 20s, so I think she managed public transportation just fine.

Probably old enough to take public transporation, if they are attending a talk on how Pinterest scales their product :-)

Why go on with the field trip at all? For all the talk about "you feel the pressure to be that authority", wouldn't the best move have been to abandon the trip and side with the student?

Not sure that would achieve much, except maybe make her feel (unfairly) guilty and the rest of the class potentially resentful (despite this not being her fault).

But sending her away makes no sense either. Why not ask her to wait outside, ensure the rest of the class finds their way, then attempt to find somebody with suitable authority to allow her in?

There's no point arguing with a security guard past a certain point; they simply do not have authority you're seeking.

However, even if you spend the entire session trying to find somebody and don't succeed, at least the student will respect and appreciate your effort and won't feel alone in her plight.

The story was abbreviated: I talked to several people to figure out what was going on before they insisted we were blocking the entrance. By then she had decided it was not worth the trouble and wanted to leave.

Yelp reviews are a big point of anger from many business owners and there's some valid security risks. However a name based policy is rather dumb.

I guess that is the underlying issue. Yelp is fundamentally a protection racket. "Those are some real nice reviews you have there - it would be a real shame for something to happen to them." I imagine that there are lots of business owners that would be a security risk. I wonder if Yelp people ask themselves if they might be doing something bad if people want to do them bodily harm.

  > I wonder if Yelp people ask themselves if they
  > might be doing something bad if people want to do
  > them bodily harm.
They don't have to be doing something wrong for people to want to harm them.

Most of the time, if people want to physically hurt you, you're either doing something really bad, or really good. I don't think Yelp falls into the "really good" category.

Or you might just be hurting business of bad people. Not every owner of the restaurant is a nice and smart person who can accept negative feedback (aka. bad review) as a sing that he/she needs to change something.

But it helps!

Anyone hated by lots of murderous psycho control-freak business owners is probably doing some good in the world.

Although if you really think about it, what other option does yelp have. It's not like yelp is going to get the NSA to do a bunch of wiretapping, or hire sleuths to dig up the social security numbers of the irate business owners. If they think there are serious security risks, then it is prudent for them to be extra cautious, and they have to work within the means that are available to them (i.e. no NSA type stuff, just probably collecting a random list of names based on threats that they received). It sucks that the student didn't get to attend the event, but it would suck way more (from yelp's perspective) if someone managed to sneak in and destroy a bunch of stuff (or worse). I am not a huge fan of the obsession with security that has overrun our country, but I don't begrudge people for taking precautions to protect themselves.

Although if you really think about it, what other option does yelp have.

Have a competently professional security policy with recourse to appeal at the door if they're going to host events for people?

Or, you know, just look like amateurs.

Yelp is not in the personnel security business, so I don't think they really care what you think about the security policy of their building (which is most likely supplied by a third party contractor anyway, as is the case in my building, and most others).

What it really comes down to if you don't like their policy, don't host your meetup there.

Similarly, Yelp isn't in the accounting business, so they have no obligation to pay taxes or payroll. (If employees don't like it, they shouldn't work there.)

By having a security policy, they are in the security business, and they're doing it wrong.

>By having a security policy, they are in the security business

This is not true. A company should only be considered to be in the security business if their profit is driven or at least depends upon offering security to others.

By the logic of your post, any company that has computers that they have to manage would be in the 'IT' business.

The reality is that to run a company, a variety of things must be done to allow it to exist that do not define the business of the company.

This is absolute pedantry. Nobody claimed that Yelp is offering services within the security industry. They are "in the business" in the sense that they are concerning themselves with security to such an extent that they have a policy and are kicking people out of events based on a blacklist (after the fashion of an authoritarian government).

Since they are doing it they should be concerned with doing it right.

If computers are critically important to a company (as they are for many web companies) then they are expected to manage them in an intelligent way. That doesn't mean that web companies are all acting as ISPs, but it is absolutely routine and expected for them to take various measures to maintain their computing infrastructure correctly. It's irrelevant that they are not selling computers.

It is totally irrelevant that Yelp is not selling security services to other companies.

So if you're not in the IT business, does that mean you don't have to do backups? Or does it mean that if you have computers, you damn well better understand the IT business and do it the same way the professionals do?

In this case, Yelp's security policies are stupid. They're not making money from security, but that doesn't mean they get to be stupid.

I attended a meetup that was held at Yelp and I can confirm that entrance to the building is weirdly extra secured compared to meetups at other SF companies I've attended.

This entire story seems quite obvious, really.

AFAIK, the CONSENSUS is they run a racket. "Sures is a nice restaurant, would be a reeeel shame if some negative reviews happened to it, wouldn't it" is their business model. (not exaggerating here - Google startup extortion, this is the only company that comes up. They've been sued.)

If you're running an extortion ring, you're not gonna be letting a whooole lot of po'd people in your office.

I would be extremely curious about the specific name. I bet it is someone they have tried to illegally strong-arm by showcasing negative reviews.

I wonder if you can pay them a fee to hide the negative security reviews of your name.

haha..being Yelp..probably!

I don't understand this point:

"I don't hold it against the security guy, he was just following instructions."

Why does everybody assume that while what he's doing is awful, he's just following instructions and that he wouldn't do anything truly f'ed up.

I would assume that a guy who is willing to take a job that involves excluding a kid from their class field trip based wholly on that kid's name being on some magic list is the sort to be willing to do all sorts of evil stuff if ordered to.

I'm not saying he IS the type to do evil things if ordered, but that is the safer assumption.

I don't think hypotheticals are particularly relevant.

What I would argue is that (unless you're the bouncer at a nightclub) it is pretty shitty to refuse someone entry without explanation. If you don't know the reason, you should be willing to call your superior and find out, and maybe sort out the situation properly.

And if it's a company where that kind of information is "secret" and not disclosed to the people who are enforcing it, that's a sick culture.

Important edit to the article: My students are adults, which wasn't really the point of the article (and wasn't clear). Their ridiculous exclusion policy is. As smart as kids are these days, I'm not sure a "Pinterest scaling talk" is something I'd take kids to.

A lot of people here are making some assumptions based on the idea that these were children, which is pretty interesting in itself.

Especially since if they were kids "Direct her to the BART" might not be an appropriate response

I work for Yelp, and it sounds like we screwed up. Apologies that we weren't able to get this woman into the MySQL event. We're obviously reviewing our security procedures to make sure they are more sane and sensitive for next time.

You're a mobile engineer at yelp, do you have authority to speak on this publicly? Is this Yelp's official response?

You can consider this an officially sanctioned response.

Please state what criteria you use for banning people.

I'm confused - they had a guestlist and everyone else in the class but her was on it, or none of your students were on it and they decided to exclude her personally?

They had a guest list and all my students were on it. This particular student was also on it, along with a note to exclude her specifically from entering the office.

That is not at all clear from your post. It sounds like she just wasn't on the list at all.

This. I think you may want to add that detail to your post. It's really important context.

Is there some reason why they couldn't tell you in advance that there would be a problem with this student, rather than waiting until you got there?

Ah, I read your post as if you guys literally just showed up and expected to get in. Did they know you were all together?

I think you did the right thing by allowing the rest of the class to attend, but I feel terrible for your student, especially given the push for more women in engineering.

Interesting information about Yelp's building security from a Scala meetup group:


They actually require government ID, which is a step above most building security I've encountered. Also, it says that Yelp "shares offices... in a building with security" - perhaps these stupid policies are more the building's fault than Yelp's?

Yelp has its own security team, and they do the administration of the guest list.

this is extremely common in a lot of meetups in SF - really the only reason they want your name on the list is so if you are a crazy homeless person looking for free booze and free food with a lot of expensive ass computer shit laying around you can't just waltz in

also, I am in that meetup group and yesterday was insane email traffic w/the amount of people that couldn't follow the most simplest of advice -- "we need your name"

Name on a list, sure, fine. Pretty standard practice in big office buildings.

Running the guest list against some database of banned names, not so standard.

One reason it's not standard is that properly operating a list of banned names is very difficult, for the reason pointed out here in this post.

I didn't get this context from the post when I read it first - I guess this begs the question - was this a former employee of yelp or was it a true mixup?

It's a student, definitely not a former yelp employee or homeless person.

I'm a crazy homeless person, my name is Adam Smith, nice to meet you. Or was it John Brown? Do they check government-issued ID? I'm visiting from BC or Ontario, you think they could recognize a fake ID?

I think the logic is that if you have successfully guessed a name that is good enough for them - remember - we are talking about people who are literally walking in off the street - they aren't trying to 'game the system' - they might not even know where the hell they are

some places ask for ids - but really a lot of places you just need to have the name - that's all

Go give yelp a bad review on yelp.

"But here I was, helpless. The only thing I could do was direct her to BART and join the rest of the class inside. "

I'm a teacher, and if this happened to one of my students on an official College trip (which, in the UK, would have been documented and approved in advance with a risk analysis &c, and yes even for adult students) I would probably be on the phone to the principal.

Given they way things sound in this case, I would have had to consider options. I'm assuming the teacher in this case was also driving the transport.

Standard practice in Manhattan and Philadelphia at most office high-end office buildings. this is the world Americans live in. Yelp isn't in the business of protecting civil liberties.

edit: standard practice to deny entry to non-badged persons who aren't on a pre-submited event guestlist. i've seen this, for example, at every tech meetup held in a downtown office building i've ever been to in Manhattan and Philadelphia.

edit2: i've never actually challenged this, but i've been told that i would be denied entry if name not on list.

My office is in the same building as the NYC's counter-terrorism command center and is well-patrolled by uniformed and plainclothes officers.

But the check-in process is not at all stringent in the way that the OP describes. So no, this is not "standard practice."

Edit: I see you meant that "standard practice" involved a check-in on a list to get a badge. OK, no disagreement there. We'd have to hear more from the OP about the list of names sent to Yelp before the event before saying more.

That's kind of a silly comment. Obviously entering a building is not a civil liberty; private buildings have the right to enforce security policies. That doesn't mean Yelp shouldn't be held accountable when their security policies are really, really dumb.

I've never been denied entry to buildings in NY & Philly. In this situation, the front desk has always called the people I was visiting to confirm that I was a guest.

I've never been turned away without recourse...

What makes you think her name wasn't on the list?

All three office buildings I've working in during the past 5 years would not let you leave the lobby unless you are escorted by a person from the company you are going to visit. The escort also has to have escort rights.

That is different than an escort coming down to the lobby and saying, "ok you, you and you can come up. You over there have to leave the building". That is something I have never seen happen.

Edit: all three have had metal detectors and airport style scanners, really annoying getting stuck in the security line if you forgot your badge and were running late.

Standard practise to do what exactly? Which names are banned?

It's standard practice to deny anyone who is not on the guest list or an employee. Simple as that. In my experience it's pretty easy to add people to the guest list as an employee, and the event organizer should have made sure that anyone who was missed was added live.

The person banned was on the guest list.

> Yelp isn't in the business of protecting civil liberties.

Why yes! Why would a company built on freedom of expression, freedom of association, and net neutrality care about civil liberties?

Standard practice in Manhattan and Philadelphia at most office high-end office buildings

Which part is standard practice? Many take any form of ID and print a badge. I have been to none that do any sort of ID check. Have you been to some that Google you?

It's a private office, they can exclude whoever the fuck they want for any reason they want. They can also use any criteria they want.

Don't like it ? Too fucking bad.

I believe that we're also free to publicly shame them for having and enforcing idiotic policies.

The only reason that your statement makes sense is if you disagree with me on that. Otherwise, your comment just amounts to "they don't have to listen to you," which should be implicit to everyone here.

If you do feel that we aren't allowed to publicly shame them, then I'd invite you to expand on that idea.

What a useless comment. Beside having nothing to do with the comment it is in response to, it completely misses the point that while what they did is of course legal, we can still find it inappropriate and complain about it.

The unnecessary, inflammatory coarseness of your language hasn't helped you present this alternative point of view.

This is really not normal.

I don't see the issue with businesses having a list of people who should not be admitted to a building no matter who guests them in. Certainly, fires were on a list of "do not enter" in a call center I worked at years ago, to avoid reprisal. My local Yelp seems to attract a different sort of troll considering the large amount of in-person interactions of its members and the psychopathic small-business owners who can't tolerate a bad review, or a series of bad reviews that reflect their attitude. This situation seems to have worked out poorly for all involved, but the policy of exclusion isn't necessarily the problem.

I don't understand why they couldn't have the desk find someone in HR or other related department (whoever issues the order) to confer with regarding this particular guest.

What is with phrases like "psychopathic small-business owners"? I don't understand why we are villainizing people who run small businesses.

So the teacher decided it was the best overall to let the students in, abandon the one student, it's best for him to listen to the talk (!) and go with the policy. I know it might just be me, but with this behavior I have the feeling he is supporting this policy.

I realize these decisions are hard to make on the spot, but it's important to grab everybody and pull them out on the spot. As a teacher (or me in a previous life, as a manager --- also of adults), when you disagree very strongly with the ethics of actions of others, I found it both personally and team-wise rewarding to react decisively in front of my team so they'd get the message.

This applies to not only strange security, but harassment, unethical behavior, and other inappropriate actions.

Trust me from personal experience, you'll never regret it, and as you get older, the retelling will only get _more_ enjoyable, both for you and those who were there to see you blow up. On both sides, so long as you keep it professional.

This sounds like a lazy (likely contracted) security "officer". Call the company he works for and relay this story. There simply cannot be a policy that does not account for people sharing the same name.

If so, then THAT'S the story here...

Ultimately, a private company should be able to ask anybody to leave their property for any reason.

The checks and balances against abuse of this power are basically that, if Yelp's a jerk, they get bad PR, as is happening in this case.

I hate Yelp and the Security there, worst place to organize any meetup events!

I think there is only one thing you can do: Leave a negative review about the place on Yelp.


The results may vary. If Yelp pays ridiculous amounts to itself for an advertising campaign, the review probably won't show up. If Yelp didn't pay for an advertising campaign, then it will show for sure.

It's not like we are talking about a particularly ethical company!

I pressed further, and they informed me that she could not be let in because she was an "undisclosed security risk."

Y'know, it might just be some poorly-paid security drone reading blindly from some poorly articulated status message on some crappy security desk app.

So instead of something tactful and polite like "Not on the guest list", the applicable field got set to NULL, which bubbled up as "Reason: Unknown".

Yelp.com is blocked from my home Comcast connection in San Francisco ( I just get "403 Forbidden". I assume somebody else in my neighborhood on Comcast tried to crawl the site and they denied access for the entire IP block.

I tried e-mailing them, no response.

You seem to think it had something to do with her name? Was it a Middle Eastern name?

It had everything to do with her name: she was turned away by the person with the guest list, but not by the security guy checking for fake IDs. That was the only piece of information they had.

And no, she's got a down-home 'good old American' type name, if I've ever heard one.

I'd guess it is the name of a disgruntled business owner.

It didn't have to do with the name in and of itself, but the fact that it wasn't on the guest list.

Did you ever get to the bottom of why it wasn't on the guest list?

Did you ask the security guard (or did the guard offer) to get someone with authority to rectify the situation?

I'm curious, why is everyone in the comments assuming (contrary to the article and chriszf's comments) that this student wasn't on the guest list?

chriszf says nothing to the contrary in the article. We are given the facts: 1) You may only get in if you are on the list (of names) and 2) Student X did not get in.

There are certainly more than two facts in those 500 words. Some relevant ones:

1. chriszf wasn't aware of the guest list requirement at the gate

2. No one at Yelp told him of this in response to his inquiries

3. Yelp was provided with a guest list

4. The security guard said "undisclosed security risk", not "not on the list"

5. Everyone except this student got in without a hitch

6. chriszf came to the conclusion that, since the only information Yelp had on her was her name (due to the guest list), that that was why they had barred her.

Fact 6 implies that chriszf did check the guest list (as later confirmed here). I'm just wondering at how, especially in spite of facts 2 and 4, so many people decided that the most logical conclusion was that chriszf is an idiot that is unable to confirm whether a student's name appears on a guest list.

chriszf is an idiot Your words, not mine.

There are many reasons for a name to not be on a guest list. I never implied anyone was an idiot. Not one of the items listed confirm whether or not student x's name is on the list.

chriszf was able to come to the conclusion you state because chriszf had more information than was written in the blog post.

But why did you come to the conclusion that only possible problem was that she absolutely must not have been on the guest list, when the entire point of the post was that Yelp was excluding people based solely on their name?

I am genuinely curious.

As far as I can see, the problem is with the Yelp organizers, not the security. I have attended quite a few tech talks by banking and finance firms in Chicago. Quite often they're also in some of the most high-profile buildings in the United States. On the listing of their events they always say in massive font at the bottom: IF YOU'RE NOT REGISTERED YOU WON'T GET IN.

There's nothing wrong with this policy. The problem is that the Yelp event organizers didn't sufficiently publicize this policy.

Edit: Apparently there was a guest list, everyone's name was on it, and hers was marked as not allowed for some unknown reason? This is not clear from the article, but I gather from the comments.

Re-read the story. The student was registered, but denied entry at the last moment for undisclosed reasons.

I did not read in the article that she was not registered?

"Wait here. After I get in I'll find the event organizer and clear this up."

Am I missing something? Why did you not do this?

tear her for her bad homework!

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