Yelp’s open data project has shamed some restaurants into cleaning up their act, the company claims in a new blog post.

Yelp began publishing restaurant health inspection scores over two years ago, first in partnership with the City of San Francisco. At the time, Yelp said its data sharing project won’t “necessarily provide a direct contribution to Yelp’s bottom line, but evidence suggests [that the] open data standard will have a positive impact on society.”

So, what impact has it made thus far?

We don’t have data on the number of restaurant-goers offended and deterred by sub-par scores — we suspect Yelp isn’t interested in tracking that. But a study by Harvard Business School (HBS) suggests that publishing inspection scores on Yelp actually pressured many businesses to improve their scores in subsequent inspections. HBS apparently found the correlation after notifying a selection of restaurants that their scores will be published on Yelp.

More, from Yelp:

Yelp + Open Data = The End of Food Poisoning?

In the Spring of 2013, a group of randomly selected restaurateurs in a major U.S. city received a letter in the mail with their most recent restaurant hygiene inspection score. Half of the recipients were also notified that this score would be published on Yelp. After the letters were sent, inspection scores for all restaurants were tracked to identify any changes in performance. The result? Restaurants informed that their score was posted on Yelp tended to clean up their act and have higher scores in their next inspections.

Unfortunately, the raw results of the study are not yet available. We’ve reached out to Yelp and HBS for more on that. However, this correlation is certainly believable: If publicly accessible health data is published where more people can find it (on sites like Yelp and Foursquare, for example), restaurants will likely feel additional pressure from consumers to keep their kitchens clean.

And that could, technically, reduce food poisoning cases. Maybe.

At least, we hope so.

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