Court rules Yelp must ID negative reviewers, no constitutional protection

This is a big deal.

In a decision that could reshape the rules for online consumer reviews, a Virginia court has ruled that the popular website Yelp must turn over the names of seven reviewers who anonymously criticized a prominent local carpet cleaning business.

The case revolves around negative feedback against Virginia-based Hadeed Carpet Cleaning. The owner, Joe Hadeed, said the users leaving bad reviews were not real customers of the cleaning service — something that would violate Yelp’s terms of service. His attorneys issued a subpoena demanding the names of seven anonymous reviewers, and a judge in Alexandria ruled that Yelp had to comply.

Should a person have the right to post an anonymous review critical of a business? Does the business have the right to the identity of that reviewer?

The court decided that a person has the right to post a negative review, if that is their opinion. But the business has the right to verify that the reviewer was indeed a customer. If not, then this is no longer opinion, but a false claim, and the reviewer’s comments are not protected by the First Amendment.

This is an important precedent.



  • http://boxofjack.com/ Jack

    This is going to hurt Yelp’s business model of charging business to remove bad reviews.

  • John Barnes

    I like this decision. There is too much hiding behind screen names online. People use sites like Yelp to make decisions that can affect a business’s success. Submitting reviews like this seems like libel to me assuming the business is correct that these were not real customers.

    • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

      Exactly.

  • Kris404

    Every review should have something similar to ‘Verified Amazon Purchase’ thing to weed out the astroturfers.

  • Guest

    Even if they have your real ID, how are they going to verifi if you were a customer? They can’t! Throw this crap out of the court!

    • http://www.acid-product.co.uk Ian Davies

      Uh, they’re a carpet cleaning business. I guess they can just look at whether the address of the reviewer is where they cleaned a carpet?