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?