In a recent ruling by a Virginia court, the court ruled that Yelp.com, which provides online review from consumers for companies, had to release information about consumers who “anonymously” review companies. In the Virginia case, the owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Joe Hadeed, alleged that the reviewers of his site were not real customers and needing information about them to determine if they were real customers. If the individuals leaving negative comments were actual customers, then the review would be protected under the first amendment. However, if the reviews were not from customers then they would not be protected speech and Mr. Hadeed would be able to sue the reviewer. Mr. Hadeed requested information about the reviewers from Yelp; however, Yelp refused to disclose the information.
The court ruled that Yelp must reveal the names of the users to Mr. Hadeed because if the users were not customers then the speech was not protected speech. Yelp has stated that it disagrees with the ruling and that it will silence critics online. However, others hope that it will ensure that when businesses are reviewed, it is by actual customers.
This case highlights other issues that have been present about Yelp, namely issues with “hidden” results and the number of inaccurate reviews on the site. At this time, there is no news about whether Yelp will appeal the decision so online reviewers should be aware that reviews should be accurate and truthful because they may not be as anonymous as you think.
If you are a business that has had issues with possible inaccurate reviews online, please contact me, your Denver Business Attorney, Elizabeth Lewis at 720-258-6647 or firstname.lastname@example.org.