Court Demands Yelp Turn Over Anonymous User Info to Business

Joe Hadeed runs a carpet business. Apparently, he has gotten some very bad reviews on Yelp from people he claims were never customers. Truth be told, it seems he has gotten bad reviews from quite a few people. It is against Yelp’s user agreement to post reviews unless you are an actual customer. So Hadeed went to court and asked a judge to get him the names of the people who anonymously posted reviews to his Yelp page. And apparently, he won. A Virginia court has ordered Yelp to turn over the names of the offending reviewers.

But there are some problems with this. The very nature of Yelp as a service would not work very well if users could face retribution from disgruntled company owners on the losing end of a bad review. Any company could claim you had never been there. And if the company can then get your info and sue you, that puts a serious damper on what a user would be willing to say. Meaning Yelp becomes useless as a service.

The bottom line is that Yelp is a reflection of what people in a community think about a business. Hadeed could have merely gone on his Yelp page, politely responded to the reviews with an indication that he had no recollection of ever having them as customers, asked what he could do to make it right, etc. If he has other legitimate reviews that are good and a healthy word-of-mouth reputation, his business will not suffer much. But that’s not what he did. Because he is lame.

And Yelp is also a business. Hadeed’s actions could potentially harm it. Even destroy it. I wonder what some Virginia court will do if Yelp lays a little lawsuit of their own at Hadeed’s door step. Is this a Free Speech issue, or should the anonymity of Yelp users be compromised for potentially libelous reviews?

15 responses

  1. There have been times when a competitor will post bad things and/or request other to post in a negative way against his competitor. This can be very harmful to a business. So, I think deeper details would be needed before claiming this guys is in the wrong. After all he should be able to protect his business from false claims and sometime just replying on a Yelp page may not be enough. I will agree in most cases a simple reply is probably enough.

    • Freedom first. Americans should have the right to express their opinions without fear of intimidation or threat. Who really puts any credence in these sites anyway?

  2. There shouldn’t be an issue if the reviewers can produce a receipt or invoice along with bank records proving they’re a customer.

  3. I had a customer, who visited my wine bar 3 times and every time she gave 1 star. Her reviews were lie after lie. I know who she is and she is not welcome anymore. Otherwise yelp is a good free advertising.

  4. it is not constitutional for a court to regulate free speech. That is not the function of a court nor a function of law.

    We have not delegated powers to the court that we do not have in the first place. The government is simply a proxy for the people and their power. Whatever power the people do not have as individuals, the government doesn’t have as a collective.

  5. Those posting negative reviews should have to some how back them up. Paul is right. We’ve all received anonymous e-mails making false claims about Target, for example. The source of these is never known, but many believe the false claims, thus causing loss of business for the affected store or entity. This is wrong.

  6. I can’t help but think the names and personal info the court has ordered will ‘somehow’ wind up on a government database? Is this gentleman Muslim? What if he starts claiming ‘religious persecution’ because – in his reality – people aren’t against the business but against HIM because he is Muslim.
    Just wondering…

  7. Same problem I have with Google/YouTube insisting on real names. It’s not right. For the people who just want to decently leave an opposing view, the pen name or “handle” helps protect them from the government (for holding politically incorrect views) and from people who would wish to do them harm. We live in a day and age when it’s far too easy to track people down. They can still ban those who abuse comments – they don’t need a real name to do that.

  8. Whoa !
    Making statements that are false, whether on-line via email, or in a court of law is normally termed, lying. An opinion that is not based on fact or expertise is propaganda. Posting a potentially damaging opinion that is based on an acquaintance´s opinion is propaganda. Such propaganda constitutes the racial disruption that is plagueing the US now, and which is fomented by the alias, Barack H. Obama, and minions.

    It is wrong, regardless of who does it, or where it is done.

    • I agree that Yelp can be abused. Like many things in a free country, that is the price we pay. Most consumers are savvy enough to take such reviews with a grain of salt. How many dishonest merchants are pumping up their business with paid rave reviews? Buyer beware, but Americans should not be okay with surrendering the right to their anonymous opinion.

      • “Most consumers are savvy enough to take such reviews with a grain of salt.”

        If your generalization were accurate, advertisers would not stuff their ads with falsified, favorable reviews. Prospective buyers read them. That´s why they are there – .

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