Yelp negative reviews: No anonymity for users says US court

Virginia judge decided that Joe Hadeed had produced enough evidence that negative reviews of his carpet cleaning business could be fake

The anonymity of online reviews could be under threat in the US after a court ruled that seven individual who posted negative comments about a small business should be identified.

The users had criticized the carpet cleaning business of Joe Hadeed on review site Yelp, making various claims including that the company had overcharged them and ruined their carpets.

When Hadeed could not find customer records that corresponded with the complaints he subpoenaed the site to find the users’ identities. Yelp reportedly refused to comply on several occasions and was held in contempt of court.

Now the Virginia Court of Appeals has agreed that Yelp must identify the reviewers, declaring that Hadeed had provided sufficient evidence to suspect that the revierws were not legtimiate customers.

“Generally, a Yelp review is entitled to First Amendment protection because it is a person's opinion about a business that they patronised,” said the judge in an official statement.

“The anonymous speaker has the right to express himself on the Internet without the fear that his veil of anonymity will be pierced for no other reason than because another person disagrees with him.

 "[But] if the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead the review is based on a false statement."

Yelp does not require users to register a name, but it does record an IP address associated with each review. These can be used to determine the identity of individuals online. If the individuals identified were never customers of Hadeed’s business he will sue for defamation.

Yelp have protested against the decision, with a spokesperson for the company saying: "We are disappointed that the Virginia Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that fails to adequately protect free speech rights on the internet, and which allows businesses to seek personal details about website users — without any evidence of wrongdoing — in efforts to silence online critics.”

The non-profit advocacy group named Public Citizen that represented the company in the trial said that Hadeed should have had to prove the reviews were false before demanding the identities of the users.

Although this is the first case of its kind for Yelp, the site has previsouly had problems weeding out fake reviews. An academic report from 2013 showed that fraudulent reviews on the site had increased from 5 per cent in 2006 to 20 per cent in 2013.

The study showed that fake reviews tended to be polarised by the extremely positive and the extremely negative, with the latter usually deployed as a response to increased competition in an area.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Owner

    £30 - 40k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Software House - PRINCE2, PMP

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A dynamic, customer oriented Pr...

    Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

    £30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate