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Court Rules Against Online Anonymity

Unknown Lamer posted about 8 months ago | from the turns-out-anonymous-coward-is-a-cat dept.

Privacy 314

cstacy writes "The Virginia Court of Appeals has ruled (PDF) that people leaving negative feedback for a carpet cleaning service are not allowed to remain anonymous. Yelp must unmask seven critics to the carpet cleaner, who feels that they might not even be real customers."

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314 comments

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Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (5, Informative)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 8 months ago | (#45907217)

"Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books
have played an important role in the progress of mankind.
Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout
history have been able to criticize the oppressive practices
and laws either anonymously or not at all... It is plain
that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most
constructive purposes."

    --Hugo Black, Tally v. California, 1960

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (5, Insightful)

k6mfw (1182893) | about 8 months ago | (#45907255)

that was back in 20th century when the US had a Constitution and three branches of govt for checks and balances.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (-1, Offtopic)

i kan reed (749298) | about 8 months ago | (#45907325)

And segregation, don't forget segregation.

Re: Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907385)

Feature, not bug!

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (0)

Desler (1608317) | about 8 months ago | (#45907505)

Or being put into "internment" camps for your family lineage. These "good ole days" people are so ridiculous.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (5, Insightful)

Entropius (188861) | about 8 months ago | (#45907513)

Just because thing A used to be better doesn't mean that thing B used to be better too. Can't we look at the past and say "This was good, but that was bad"?

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (2, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about 8 months ago | (#45907549)

Sure, but the point of k6mfw's post was that "the constitution" were secured in the past, and it really wasn't in any meaningful way.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907721)

> the point of k6mfw's post was that "the constitution" were secured in the past, and it really wasn't in any meaningful way.

He made the point that for some things it was, others it wasn't yet. You made no compelling argument the other direction.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (-1, Offtopic)

Desler (1608317) | about 8 months ago | (#45907639)

But that's not what they said and what they said is patently false. It's nothing but white-washed nostalgia.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907547)

Don't forget Genocide (going back even further).

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (4, Funny)

Wordplay (54438) | about 8 months ago | (#45907535)

"Constitutionality? Yes, but the 20th Century also had Chewbacca. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!"

We're better in some ways now...and a lot worse in others. At least then, when a governmental abuse came to light it tended to actually cause an effect. Nowadays, it's just blown off as business as usual.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907347)

LOL. During the 60s the CIA, NSA and FBI were flagrantly abusing their powers and authority. Never learned about the Church Committee?

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (3, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about 8 months ago | (#45907427)

Shhh, you're ruining their carefully cleaned memory of a perfect past. Less than a decade after "I have lists!" McCarthy hearings either.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (1)

zlives (2009072) | about 8 months ago | (#45907731)

and the actual physical harm DOD was doing around Savannah River. People finally woke up to that may be things will change again.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (2)

Desler (1608317) | about 8 months ago | (#45907459)

That's interesting nostalgia. The 20th century was chock full of Constitutional abuses by Congress, the executive branch, state and local enforcement, etc. Especially if you were a minority, a woman, a member of a political party disliked by those in power, gay, or part of a niche religious sect, etc.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 months ago | (#45907587)

Every century sine it was written thing have happened that some people consider constitution abuses.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 8 months ago | (#45907533)

that was back in 20th century when the US had a Constitution and three branches of govt for checks and balances.

It was a state court that issued the ruling under Virginia law, not a Federal court under Federal law. The US Federal government still has a Constitution and three branches of government for checks and balances.

YEah..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907733)

Let's not make a federal case out of this.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (1)

korbulon (2792438) | about 8 months ago | (#45907319)

Yeah but someone said we couldn't get a shitstain out of their paisley green shag carpets and THAT'S SIMPLY NOT TRUE.

Take that, Constitution!

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907355)

Libel has never been a constitutional right. If someone makes a libelous statement, hiding behind anonymity, then the other party is free to investigate who made the statement. No company's terms of service can override the law.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (4, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 8 months ago | (#45907443)

"No company's terms of service can override the law"

I see you're new here. Welcome to America!

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 months ago | (#45907487)

"No company's terms of service can override the law"

I see you're new here. Welcome to America!

It's not so much that they can't override the law, it's that the courts have determined that they're valid, and therefore lawful (even when unconscionable).

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907329)

Hence the NSA, to end all anonymity.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907555)

MOD THIS DOWN. The business in question is not a governmental agency. This is not political. There is no persecution. It's just libel.

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (2)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 months ago | (#45907571)

If someone was using anonymity to harm you, would you not have the right to find out who that person is?

Re:Appropriate Supreme Court Quote (5, Informative)

naasking (94116) | about 8 months ago | (#45907719)

That quote refers to anonymity from the government. It's not clear that anonymity whem commenting on corprations or people have the same protections due to libel laws.

And thus ends Yelp. (5, Interesting)

Kenja (541830) | about 8 months ago | (#45907219)

Since the whole point is to give unbiased feed back and the chance of repercussions by definition creates a bias, that's more or less the end of that.

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (5, Funny)

i kan reed (749298) | about 8 months ago | (#45907261)

Don't worry, you can still find information about businesses that have gone under, details about restaurants including everything but their hours and prices, and reviews marked "most helpful" consisting solely of the phrase "I liked it"

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (5, Insightful)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 8 months ago | (#45907277)

The whole point of Yelp is to collect negative reviews so they can get paid to remove them.

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907387)

Can't support that enough. Here in Germany, they bought a local competitor, and suddenly all the positive reviews disappeared unless you pay for an "advertisement package".

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (1)

Kenja (541830) | about 8 months ago | (#45907411)

Right, and since now posting negative reviews can get you sued, what will happen?

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907543)

That's the absolute truth!

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907591)

by the way, I realize the irony in my anonymous post.

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 8 months ago | (#45907433)

Yelp was always full of shit, as were online download things like download.com reviews.

Even ignoring rampant review fraud, positive and negative, people are far more likely to bitch over problems than praise, letting a few percent of unhappy establish "terrible service" as the review norm.

In this case, the judge was satisfied with evidence the reviews were fake (a different point to argue), and protection does not apply as in any other case offline.

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 months ago | (#45907605)

I have found yelp to be extremely accurate. I have never gone to anyplace with high marks on yelp and regretted it.

Re:And thus ends Yelp. (4, Interesting)

mythosaz (572040) | about 8 months ago | (#45907679)

There's pretty much four types of reviewers on Yelp, in pretty much this order or volume:

1) The semi-professional Yelp reviewer. He's writing yelp reviews for every last thing he does.
2) Shills, inflating their companies and friends, and leaving crap for competitors.
3) Guys who got a toenail in their lunch who made an account to complain.
A distant 4) People who had a great meal who felt a need to share.

If you know this, you can still read between the lines and make informed reviews.

Papers please comrade ... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907239)

You do not have the right to not identify yourself.

America is rapidly ceasing to be free in all meaningful sense of the word.

Oh, sure, you can act like you're free. But the reality is, you are rapidly becoming a police state.

Re:Papers please comrade ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907475)

You do not have the right to not identify yourself.

America is rapidly ceasing to be free in all meaningful sense of the word.

Oh, sure, you can act like you're free. But the reality is, you are a police state.

FTFY

Yelp? They should have ruled against 4Chan! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907253)

Trying to enforce an anti-anonymity ruling against 4Chan would be worth tons of popcorn!

Re:Yelp? They should have ruled against 4Chan! (1)

lordmetroid (708723) | about 8 months ago | (#45907281)

I would love to see that. Care to share some of that popcorn or do I have to make my own?

1 guy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907351)

Everyone know's 4chan is just 1 guy though...

Re:Yelp? They should have ruled against 4Chan! (1)

Tanktalus (794810) | about 8 months ago | (#45907353)

I'd recommend making your own. All reviews of AC's popcorn are negative. Complaints about oversalting with arsenic and strychnine, largely, though one customer complained about insufficient amounts of butter.

Re:Yelp? They should have ruled against 4Chan! (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about 8 months ago | (#45907481)

I'd recommend making your own. All reviews of AC's popcorn are negative. Complaints about oversalting with arsenic and strychnine, largely, though one customer complained about insufficient amounts of butter.

You are only saying that because you are in Canada and safe from this ruling.

Re:Yelp? They should have ruled against 4Chan! (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 8 months ago | (#45907383)

I was hoping that you would make enough popcorn to share. AC is selfish, and I'm lazy. Can I haz popcorn, please?

Re:Yelp? They should have ruled against 4Chan! (1)

AJH16 (940784) | about 8 months ago | (#45907421)

Not that hard, simply sue (or more directly, convict) the guys that run the server until they are compliant or out of business.

Skynet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907455)

4chan run's itself.

Re:Yelp? They should have ruled against 4Chan! (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 8 months ago | (#45907523)

From my primitive understanding, the "bug-out" plan for anonymous is simply to go to another chan, like 420chan and take over, until that server is taken down too.

This all is predicated on the flawed understanding that anyone gives a shit about 4chan.

Waiting to review (5, Funny)

MiniMike (234881) | about 8 months ago | (#45907283)

Is there a place on Yelp to review the Virginia Court of Appeals?

Re:Waiting to review (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 8 months ago | (#45907301)

Virginia state penitentiary, of course.

1st Amendment doesn't protect libel, but... (2)

natarnsco (1340979) | about 8 months ago | (#45907285)

I bet Mr. Hadeed would have been better off ignoring the comments, or offer discounts for positive reviews to outweigh the negatives. Streisand Effect and all.

Oh yeah? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907299)

And what compensation do those customers get for having their information forcibly leaked to their carpet cleaning company if they are real customers? Oh, none? Yay America. Monetary damages are reserved for business.

Re:Oh yeah? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907431)

Yay America. Monetary damages are reserved for business.

And the more money you have, the more speech you're entitled to, because money==speech.

negative feedback? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907315)

and what about people giving _positive_ feedback?

(think corporate shill sockpuppets)

The door swings both ways (3, Insightful)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | about 8 months ago | (#45907321)

Does this mean that people leaving positive feedback should also be unmasked?

Seriously, I completely avoid any service that has all 4/5 and 5/5 stars because in real life at least one person would find fault with it.

Re:The door swings both ways (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907369)

4/5 - Great!

Wonderful hotel, friendly staff and nice clean room. Would visit again!
7/4/01

5/5 - Enjoyed thoroughly

Breakfast was delivered to my room at no extra cost, that's what I call service!
12/06/01

1/5 - Noisy surroundings

Was trying to have a lie in, and all of a sudden there was this awful bang outside and lots of screaming, shouting and police sirens. Hotel needs better windows, won't visit again.
9/11/01

Re:The door swings both ways (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907419)

There are 3 actual ratings for all online rating systems:

5 stars - Only one person has rated this item (probably the person selling it)
4 stars - This item might not be worse than a poke with a sharp stick. Beyond that, you are on your own.
0-3 stars - Stay away. Any item that can't pull 4 stars is likely to be hazardous to your health.

Re:The door swings both ways (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 8 months ago | (#45907499)

My biggest peeve is the idiots who have reviews like "Just got X Product, haven't opened it yet." or "I just ordered X Product. Can't wait for it to get here" or "I ordered a different product from a different company and it's great/horrible so this one is too!". And then they rate it with either the minimum or maximum value.

Another one bites the dust (1)

Kardos (1348077) | about 8 months ago | (#45907337)

With this precedent set, Yelp transitions to a place where favourable reviews are posted and negative reviews quashed. This is about as useful as a phone book.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 8 months ago | (#45907469)

Given the number of obviously fake reviews on Yelp, for it to become as useful as a phone book would be a huge step up.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 months ago | (#45907647)

You should read the court ruling. In short, if some one posts a lie, and the company can show that it is likely to be a lie, then Yelp my have to divulge the information about the anon reviewer.

I can kind of see it (5, Insightful)

Chirs (87576) | about 8 months ago | (#45907343)

If I'm a small business owner, I don't want my competitors to be submitting fake negative reviews against me.

It might make sense to have both named and anonymous reviews, with the anonymous ones grouped separately. Then the viewer can decide which ones to look at.

Re:I can kind of see it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907501)

If I'm a small business owner, I don't want my competitors to be submitting fake negative reviews against me.

Are you OK with your competitors submitting or causing to be submitted, fake positive reviews for themselves, so that you have two honest positive reviews, and they have 7 fake positive reviews?

Re:I can kind of see it (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 8 months ago | (#45907521)

But then what's to keep the named reviewers from just using a pseudonym? Bob's Donut Emporium could log in as Leroy Notaperson and bash Big Joe's Donuts, Hair Care and Tire Center.

Re:I can kind of see it (4, Insightful)

schneidafunk (795759) | about 8 months ago | (#45907527)

I agree. I see a lot of people talking about free speech and quoting the constitution, but ignoring libel & defamation. Being able to speak anonymously as a whistleblower or protester is one thing; ruining the reputation of a person or business with falsehoods is quite another.

I am a consumer. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907563)

I ignore glowing reviews because I think they are shills, "Reputation Managers" - paid liars or people who don't know any better.

And frankly, I like being anonymous because Mr Business, if you didn't like my review - regardless of its merits - you could force me to remove it because I don't have $15,000 for a legal retainer to defend myself from a lawsuit.

Does anyone here remember Pets Present (IIRC) from the 90s? The sued EVERYONE who left a negative review.

Some of the Slashdot crowd coughed up thousands of dollars just to settle.

rant as though the moms were watching (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907357)

free the innocent stem cells. poor service to be replaced by serving each other after shooting stops? advocate for POT (Personal Open Terminal) keep us on the up & up. (;^)-)-|

Re:rant as though the moms were watching (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907477)

I dare you to make less sense.

Chicken Sh*ts (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907365)

Have the balls to stand behind your comments. If you wouldn't say it in front of a crowd, don't say it. Whomever said the Internet was anonymous has no idea what the start of the Internet was like - with email directly to your computer.

Re:Chicken Sh*ts (4, Funny)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | about 8 months ago | (#45907405)

Oh, the irony!

Re: Chicken Sh*ts (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907511)

Email directly to the computer that you have a login to. You can log in at one of the terminals in either of the two terminal rooms on campus: the one on the second floor of the science building, or the one in the basement of the social sciences building.

Re:Chicken Sh*ts (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 8 months ago | (#45907529)

...so said the Anonymous Coward

Re:Chicken Sh*ts (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907687)

If you have a terrible landlord that you're trying to move away from, they have $2000 of your money hiding away as your deposit, and it will be another 6 months before your lease is up, but you want to warn people to stay away, do you REALLY want to have them raise your prices in the interim, vandalize your place after you leave, and then SUE YOU for damages because you wanted to help others avoid the same fate you did? Enjoy losing $5,000 because the judge James Steele of the Los Angeles Court of Appeals had no intention of watching the video you took of the house, spotless, as you left it, but just said "I really don't feel like doing this today, so I'm going to side with the landlord. You should have thought about having someone sue you for $5,000 under perjurous circumstances BEFORE you had a baby last month!"

Me neither, and I wouldn't wish such a disaster on anyone else... except for one of my former landlords, obviously. May she be suspected of terrorism and rot in Guantanamo without trial for the rest of her wicked life.

FTG (1)

AndyKron (937105) | about 8 months ago | (#45907373)

that' bullshit, and everybody knows it.

Escrow of sorts (5, Insightful)

gumpish (682245) | about 8 months ago | (#45907377)

If the goal of the unmasking is to determine whether the Yelp complainers were actual customers (as the fine article states) couldn't the judge be provided the names of the Yelpers and the list of Mr. Hadeed's customers and make that determination without revealing their identities to Mr. Hadeed or the public at large? (I'm not saying it's morally or legally correct for anyone to know the identity of the Yelpers, but this would seem preferable to telling Mr. Hadeed who the complaining customers were, enabling him to harrass them.)

Re:Escrow of sorts (1, Insightful)

medv4380 (1604309) | about 8 months ago | (#45907709)

I seem to recall a right somewhere.. what was it... Something about the right to confront ones own accusers. Must be some communist or European thing.

Online Reviews (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907379)

1. People are way too nice, to begin with.

2. Nobody questions the 5 star reviews. Amazon's 5 star reviews are loaded with shills.

3. The web is loaded with "Reputation Mangers" who post phony 5 star reviews.

4. Yelp will have to indemnify me before I am willing to post.

5.

If “the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead, the review is based on a false statement” and not subject to First Amendment protection, the opinion stated.

That's all fine and well, but that does me no good when some business who didn't do right by me sues me and buries me in legal bills. And the fact that I'd have to cough up a $15,000 retainer just to defend myself from speaking the truth.

6. Lastly, many shitty reviews can be avoided if business didn't give its customers the run around or just plain ignore them when they try to rectify the issue.

Sure there are unfair and unreasonable customers but those are easily weeded out - they are the ones who post without facts and resort to name calling.

The future of online reviews? (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | about 8 months ago | (#45907395)

Maybe in the future, all we'll see in online reviews is, "Fast, neat, average, friendly, good, good."

The court could protect the reviewers privacy and (3, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 8 months ago | (#45907435)

still determine if the are real or not. Have Hadeed turn over his database to Yelp's lawyers and let them match the reviewers. For those that don't match then Yelp turns over the names. This wouldn't be much different then when a court allows discovery but places safeguards in place to ensure only truly relevant information is revealed. That way, fake reviews are unmasked and Hadeed can decide if he wants to take action against them.

Online sights should (1)

Hey_Jude_Jesus (3442653) | about 8 months ago | (#45907461)

They should publish the IP address for all posts along with their email address. They could put the email address on a image to prevent spam harvesters.

Re:Online sights should (1)

PPH (736903) | about 8 months ago | (#45907515)

Lets see:

Anonymous e-mail account. Check.
Post from open WiFi at Starbucks: Check.

Re:Online sights should (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 months ago | (#45907663)

Yeah, that will work~

Slashdot headline translation tips (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907465)

Ah, Slashdot. Who needs Fox News's headlines when there's you?

Court rules that abusive anonymous posters must be revealed for a lawsuit == Court rules against concept of online anonymity
City public transit planners deny a new bus stop in front of a Slashdotter's workplace == City planners murder thousands of pedestrians by destroying entire mass transit system
Judge rules that health and safety regulations prevent a Slashdot reader from continuing to operate a health food and health supplement store from their home == Judge rules human life itself illegal
State trooper arrests nerd driving 125mph on interstate highway leading police on a two-hour-long chase to avoid a ticket == State trooper cripples internet and American transportation industry in one fell swoop

all positive reviews are fake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907471)

if you are smart you ignore those and just look at negatives, and its pretty easy to determine if a negative one is a shill

That carpet cleaning service sucks ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907517)

I am Sarah Palin and this message has been paid for
by the people who stained my carpet while giving me
contributions.

By the way, I am free next Saturday and I'll buy the champagne this time.

Frost pissed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907525)

Frostpissed

LeCarre taught me about cut-outs (1)

paiute (550198) | about 8 months ago | (#45907531)

Who said that Yelp knows who I really am?

Standard Word of Mouth (1)

Paul Pierce (739303) | about 8 months ago | (#45907569)

So with this precedence would the judge rule it illegal if I 'heard' that one brand of tractor was better than another but couldn't remember the exact source?

Of course if you run a business and people randomly post crap about it for no reason it sucks; but it sucks in person too. If someone randomly tells me to never to shop at Sears, oh well.

Let me know how that works for ya (2)

pla (258480) | about 8 months ago | (#45907603)

people leaving negative feedback for a carpet cleaning service are not allowed to remain anonymous. Yelp must unmask seven critics to the carpet cleaner

That presumes Yelp actually knows their real identity. Good luck with that.

BTW, as a word of advice for any company hoping to sanitize its online image - When I search for product reviews, if I find nothing but positives, I consider that worse than a legitimately mixed bag of pros and cons... Or even more laughable, tossing in some pathetic token "cons" that complain about your product just working too well: "After trying a handful of wimpy competitors, I thought I could easily handle the awesome power of SpleemCo(tm)'s Widget Frobulator, but it had me scared to go past 60%! For pros only, guys!"

Re:Let me know how that works for ya (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907659)

That presumes Yelp actually knows their real identity

No, it presumes that Yelp has the IP addresses that were used to post the reviews, which is true.

How About Protecting Consumers (3, Insightful)

organgtool (966989) | about 8 months ago | (#45907619)

The judge seems very worried about protecting businesses from false negative reviews but how about protecting consumers from false positive reviews? Does this mean that shills are required to use their real names as well (at least in Virginia)?

How? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907629)

How is yelp supposed to unmask a negative review?

Ok, I'm Joe the Butcher and a New competitor open up the street from me I jump on yelp and submit reviews like "bad meat" "short weight?"

1. Using home computer, Yelp captures Ip address tracks it back to my ISP, gets a court order and gets my details from my ISP

2. Using Home computer, I buy an overseas VPN in a country that dosn't like the US (or wherever you are), Post reviews, yelp has no trail to follow

3. I goto a local cybercafe, post a review, goto next cafe and so on. Yelp has no trail to follow

4. I find an unsecured wifi access point, post reviews. Yelp has no trail to follow.

I don't see how this could be enforced, unless they plan on prosecuting the ISP's

Do not fuck with the corporate overlords (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907633)

You may now approach and grope the ass of CEO.

Shill Reviews (2)

Jason Levine (196982) | about 8 months ago | (#45907643)

I used to work on a review site a decade ago (which is forever in Internet terms). At the time, I processed all reviews by hand to weed out spam submissions. (The site was small enough to allow this at the time. Obviously, looking back, it wasn't a scalable solution.) Along with spam submissions, I'd occasionally get a wave of positive reviews for products. These reviews would have similar wording and would invariably come from the same IP address. After a decade, I'm sure the shills have gotten less obvious about their glowing product/service reviews so I don't envy people who need to weed the shills out from the actual reviews.

The other side of this coin is that people could submit negative reviews that weren't earned whether out of spite for unrelated company actions (e.g. I don't like the founder's political stance so I'll post that his business's service stinks) or as a method of unfair competition (e.g. If we ruin their rating on Yelp, our competing carpet cleaning business will pick up). I can understand a business being afraid of phony negative reviews hurting their reputation. That being said, the names shouldn't be released to the business itself but to a third party who would also get the business' customer list and could compare them to weed out anyone who wasn't a customer. This third party would be forbidden from revealing the real names of the Yelp users - or the business' customer list - to anyone and would only report back which online screen names were not customers.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the court is setting up a huge legal risk. Let's, for a second, accept the following as true:

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.

Now let's say Yelp releases the names of these 7 commenters and none were customers. Fine, no rights violated. (Again, for the moment, we're accepting the court's ruling.) However, if at least one of those comments came from an actual customer, then those people's rights will have been violated. The court has basically stated that no rights will be violated by assuming an outcome where no rights are violated. (Circular reasoning at its finest!)

How else do you prove whether reviews are faked? (1)

blackm0k (2589601) | about 8 months ago | (#45907665)

What a load of hyperbole. This has nothing to do with the right to remain anonymous online and everything to do with proving that the reviews are fake. This may even relate to some of Yelp's alleged unscrupulous business practices: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimhandy/2012/08/16/think-yelp-is-unbiased-think-again/ [forbes.com]

"Court Rules Against Online Anonymity" my *ass*! (2)

kheldan (1460303) | about 8 months ago | (#45907685)

That's an unnecessarily sensationalist headline if I ever saw one. Slashdot editors get modded down to "-1, Troll" for that so far as I'm concerned. Some random court making a ruling concerning one single website does not a huge controversy make.

Misleading title (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45907699)

The court ruled that the cleaner had established a case based on Yelp's terms of service, that all reviews had to be by customers and based on service. The cleaner claimed they could not match up customer records to these people, and needed to identify them to prove that they libeled him by claiming they were customers and they were not. Libel and defamation are clear exceptions to freedom of speech so are not protected under anonymity. Yelp also tried to apply rulings from other states when Virginia had a code specifically to filter when anonymity was allowed and when these subpoena's were justified.

So, a bunch of people posted negative reviews on yelp, owner provided enough proof that they weren't customers so were lying to justify subpoena, court agreed. If any of the posters were actual customers they will prevail and can actually counter-sue if they prove the cleaner lied when he said he could not find them in his files. If they were not customers they the lied and are liable for libel (great name for a band).

Full disclosure (1)

nickmalthus (972450) | about 8 months ago | (#45907739)

If the courts are obsessed with full disclosure how about we start posting online full receipts for services? I have thought about doing this many times when I thought I was being ripped off by a service provider and wanted to warn other potential customers of my negative experience. If one is unable to legally provide anonymous public feedback about a service provider then why should one be limited in publicly disclosing all their interactions with the service provider?
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