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.
The Virginia Court of Appeals agreed this week, ruling that the comments were not protected First Amendment opinions if the Yelp users were not customers and thus were making false claims.
It will be interesting to learn what position GoodReads and Amazon take on this, since in most cases the reviewers are customers, but are provably making false claims with the complicity of the site host given its ability to check if they have purchased the book or not.
Given where this appears to be going, I think Amazon would be well-advised to take a strong position against fake reviews and only permit those who have a) bought the books and b) are willing to click a checkbox affirming that they have read the book in its entirety are permitted to post reviews there.
I have always felt that it was fraudulent to post a fake review and it is good to see that this is indeed the case.