Feeds

Judge orders Yelp.com to unmask anonymous critics who tore into biz

'Defamatory speech is not entitled to constitutional protection,' huffs appeals beak

Boost IT visibility and business value

A US Court of Appeals has ordered Yelp to identify anonymous reviewers who slammed a cleaning company.

In his ruling this week [PDF], Judge William G Petty, sitting in Virginia, told the review-sharing website to turn over personal information on seven of its users who had panned Hadeed Carpet Cleaning on Yelp.com.

The family-run cleaning biz had alleged those seven critics were not customers – it says it has no record of the services the reviewers are complaining about. The cleaners believe the Yelp users deliberately posted negative reviews in order to harm the company.

Hadeed, based in Virginia, is seeking to sue the seven for defamation. Yelp has a contact email address, ZIP code and IP addresses from which the site was accessed on file for each account holder, all of which are crucial for the cleaning biz's litigation.

The legal battle started in 2012 when Hadeed subpoenaed Yelp for the identities of seven users who had posted the bad reviews. Yelp turned to the Court of Appeals to quash the subpoena, claiming the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and, in some cases, ensures the anonymity of those who post opinions and reviews on the internet.

According to Judge Petty, however, the rights of Hadeed to protect its reputation from defamatory statements overrides the protections of anonymity, and thus Yelp should be required to hand over identifying data on the seven reviewers.

"The freedom of speech – and within this, the freedom to speak with anonymity – is not absolute ... If we assume that the Yelp reviews of Hadeed are lawful, then the John Does may remain anonymous," the judge wrote in his decision.

"But if the reviews are unlawful in that they are defamatory, then the John Does’ veil of anonymity may be pierced, provided certain procedural safeguards are met. This is because defamatory speech is not entitled to constitutional protection."

Yelp, meanwhile, stood fast in its assertion that the case threatens the rights of its users to discuss their experiences honestly and freely. It will appeal to a higher court to scrub the subpoena.

"Consumers may feel the need to speak anonymously for privacy reasons or for fear of unfair retaliation by a business," the company said in a statement. "This ruling could have a chilling effect on free speech in Virginia specifically, and Yelp will continue to fight to protect consumers' privacy and free speech rights."

Yelp has become no stranger to the courts and claims from outraged business owners. Firms have accused the site of harboring users who deliberately post negative reviews of businesses in order to harm reputations and drive away customers to rivals.

Meanwhile, the site and its users have claimed that companies are using the courts in order to bully independent reviewers and customers into silence and suppressing negative reviews. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Detroit losing MILLIONS because it buys CHEAP BATTERIES – report
Man at hardware store was right: name brands DO last longer
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.