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Court Orders Yelp To Identify Anonymous Reviewers

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Court Orders Yelp To Identify Anonymous Reviewers
[ Business]

Once again, the subject of free speech with regard to Yelp reviews has been brought up in court. A new decision has proven controversial because if the court is wrong (which is very possible due to an apparent lack of real evidence), Yelp users who chose to leave reviews anonymously will have heir identifies revealed for engaging in the practice that millions of others do on the Internet. The decision could set a dangerous precedent for other potential suits involving negative online reviews and anonymity.

Do you think people should be able to leave anonymous reviews on the the Internet without having to worry about their identities exposed? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled on Tuesday that Yelp has to reveal the names of seven reviewers who left anonymous, negative reviews of a business, which maintains that the names are critical in pursuing a defamation case against the reviewers over what it claims were false reviews from non-customers.

The business we’re talking about is Hadeed Carpet Cleaning in Alexandria, Virginia. It alleges that reviewers are in violation of Yelp’s terms of service by not being real customers.

The Circuit Court for the City of Alexandria held Yelp in contempt for not complying with a subpoena, but Yelp argued that this was a violation of the First Amendment. Some would agree considering that the business has apparently been unable to prove that it “had legally and factually sufficient claims against each defendant.”

Either way, the Appeals court was apparently convinced enough by Hadeed’s argument.

It explains, “As of October 19, 2012, Yelp’s website displayed seventy-five reviews about Hadeed and eight reviews about a related company, Hadeed Oriental Rug Cleaning. These reviews were posted by various Yelp users, and a number of the reviews were critical of Hadeed. Hadeed filed suit against the authors of seven specific critical reviews. In these reviews, the authors implicitly or explicitly held themselves out to be Hadeed customers. In its complaint, Hadeed alleged that it tried to match the negative reviews with its customer database but could find no record that the negative reviewers were actually Hadeed customers. Consequently, Hadeed alleged that the negative reviewers were not actual customers; instead, the Doe defendants falsely represented themselves to be customers of Hadeed. Hadeed’s complaint further alleged that the negative comments were defamatory because they falsely stated that Hadeed had provided shoddy service to each reviewer.”

You can find the full legal document here.

Yelp (incorporated in Delaware) also argued that the trial court erred “by asserting subpoena jurisdiction over Yelp, which is a non-party, foreign corporation.” The court found that the service of the subpoena on Yelp’s registered agent in Virginia provided jurisdiction.

The Washington Times shares a statement from a Yelp spokesperson:

“We are disappointed that the Virginia Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that fails to adequately protect free speech rights on the internet, and which allows businesses to seek personal details about website users — without any evidence of wrongdoing — in efforts to silence online critics,” Yelp spokesman Vince Sollitto said in a statement. “Other states require that plaintiffs lay out actual facts before such information is allowed to be obtained, and have adopted strong protections in order to prevent online speech from being stifled by those upset with what has been said. We continue to urge Virginia to do the same.” Emphasis added.

The case is even more interesting given that Yelp has actually been battling fake reviews tooth and nail. If people are leaving fake reviews, as Hadeed is claiming, Yelp would supposedly want these eliminated. They just don’t want to see their users’ first amendment rights violated to get there.

In September, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that nineteen companies agreed to stop writing fake Yelp reviews and pay over $350,000 in fines.Yelp said at the time that it would like to work with law enforcement officials in other states to crack down on the practice.

Also in September, a study from the Harvard Business School claimed that about a fifth of Yelp restaurant reviews were phony. This was after the company sued a site for selling fake reviews.

Interestingly enough, it was a year ago that we were reporting on the Supreme Court of Virginia overturning an order for a Yelp user to change her reviews, which accused a contractor of stealing from her. It was essentially determined that the reviews were free speech until proven defamatory. So, pretty much the opposite of what we’re seeing this week.

One of the latest reviews on Hadeed’s Yelp listing comes rom Chris R. from Cumberland, Rhode Island, who writes, “I’ve not been a customer here however Joe Hadeed made headlines today by winning a law suit against yelp aimed at curbing free speech. The world (or the US for that matter) does not revolve around Hadeed carpet cleaning, Mr. Hadeed. Do not compromise Americans liberties (more than they have been already) because you are upset someone gave you a bad review on http://yelp.com. Oh, and enjoy the 1 star rating.”

There’s no question that defamatory comments online can hurt businesses, especially on a hugely popular review site like Yelp. But at what cost should businesses be able to try and make their cases?

What do you make of the court’s ruling? Should Yelp be forced to turn over identities of anonymous users? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image via Yelp

Court Orders Yelp To Identify Anonymous Reviewers
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  • http://www.jasongriffin.net Jason

    Between this effort and ads I’ve heard promoting “online reputation management” services, it seems some are interested in making a real effort to try to get negative reviews buried. My thought is that businesses who are worried about negative reviews need to worry about treating customers right instead of trying to fight negative reviews. Just blogged about this the other day on the best way to right negative reviews.

    • Stan

      Agree when it is negative reviews from customers. But what if it is negative reviews from competitors pretending to be customers. INHO, anonymous reviews should not be allowed. If a customer is really dissatisfied with a product or service, why the need to be anonymous.

      • http://www.yahoo.com Arnold Schmidt

        I agree that anyone who has been a customer of a company and feels aggrieved because a product or service was shoddy, or handled badly, should post a negative review under his or her own name. The opportunity for abuse is too great when anonymous reviews are permitted. As an actual customer, you have every right to state the facts of the matter as plainly as you like, without being subject to harassment by the company, so, in my opinion, posting anonymously is just another way for competitors to give a company an unwarranted black eye.

    • http://www.belfast-architects.co.uk Alan

      I have heard people complain of individuals appearing at their business and suggesting they would write a good review for a fee. When declined a bad review appears!!

      If people cannot stand over what they write then they should not write on forums like Yelp. There are also all sorts of allegations regarding the business practices of Yelp. About good reviews being subservient to bad. Though what foundation there is in that is anyone’s guess, but allegations seem to abound. The whole review and directory sector needs to be cleaned up. Someone’s business could be damaged by another with a personal grudge or a business competitor. The allegations could be utterly unfounded.

      • jrae

        I also know a business that was essentially blackmailed by a customer who threatened to take it down, not through Yelp, but through a review in the magazine she publishes. (I know the customer, a conniving b**** if there ever was one.) It seems the importance we’ve given reviews has provided a new venue for warped minds (and competitors) to behave poorly.

    • Dave Landon

      One of the integral concepts to our justice system is the right to face your accuser. Both reviewing a company without being a customer and hiding behind an assumed name is no better then being a sniper in the woods. Yelp is in violation of one of the fundamental elements of true democracy. Yelp promotes itself as a providing real reviews by real reviewers an yet avoids the proof that this is the case. Second of all, Chris R. who rated Hadeed with one star admits to not being a customer and his review had nothing to do with how well this company provides there services. As stated in Yelp rules, Chris R. could have his account suspended although I doubt he is even a real person.

    • Stephanie

      Many businesses do try to please their customers but sometimes you get some mad at the world b***h who didn’t get her way (aka didn’t follow the rules, didn’t wanna pay but had to, etc etc) and she runs online to complain about something to make herself feel better. Unless you own a business, it’s probably hard for you to understand but you literally cannot please everyone! Example I experienced – person came to stay at motel for a night because they had to attend a funeral. funeral ended early so they wanted to go home. motel declined to refund room since they had already used it and motel would be unable to re-rent room and would take a loss. person ended up staying and went home mad (because they didn’t get their way) and wrote up a nasty review as a result.

      So, what? Should the motel have lost MONEY over this woman? It is the motel’s fault that the funeral ended early? Heck no! So the business shouldn’t be punished for the customer’s problem. Businesses are in business to MAKE money, not lose it.

      Plus, online reviewers shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind their computer. You can have the freedom of speech – but don’t be so scared as to hide who you are. We have the right to confront our accusers, right?

    • Windsun33

      Negative reviews are not the issue- FALSE negative reviews are.

      • Michael

        No my friend, it is the fake identity is the problem. If you have a bad experience, then let the company know about it or leave review with real name so that the company can either contact you to work something else so you can change your review to a good one base on the outcome. To be blunt, if you are man enough to leave bad review then you should show who you are.
        Every one want the right to have everything but the right to have the ball to show it.

  • Vincent DeVille

    Yelp is mafia.

  • URAGANU

    I’m moving into the mountains and live on my own. I don’t need this…world.

  • http://thecryingspy.com Wayne

    Privacy is one topic. And Federal Crimes against another citizen like acts of “Slander” and “Defamation” are, are a completely different topic. How can we walk down both roads and decide the best? People aren’t likely to participate in malicious, criminal acts of slander if they can’t do it anonymously. How many more kilometers do we need to travel with this? Which way should we go?

  • Bluntbrit

    There is a difference between free speech and protecting your business against false claims. Having seen the consequences of ex-employees writing anonymous and false negative claims, I think this guy has a right to “out” the wrongdoers. All those who claim free speech rights would change their minds quickly if it happened to them. I can’t believe this guy would spend this much defending his reputation if he was an arse! If he proves that these reviews were not customers and, as happens frequently, is a competitor writing bad reviews, he deserves or get the truth. Yelp has caused nothing but problems since it’s inception and still remains a blight on local marketing services.

  • Dave More

    Absolutely Yes! But…the identity should not be available to the public in general. That identity of a person leaving a testimonial, positive or negative, should be available to the authorities.

    When a person intending to write a review, he or she should know that their review must be based on facts that, if challenged, will be available to the authorities for investigation purposes.

    Such a measure, in my opinion, will deter people from writing false reviews.

    Freedom of expression and the right of privacy cannot and should be respected, not abused.

    Just because I have the right to express my self and just because the law entitles me to keep my information private, does not and should not that these privileges can be used by me to distort facts and, possibly, destroy a business others had worked so hard to build.

    Same is true for positive reviews that are not based on facts.

  • http://kbdavis07.info Brian Davis

    I think this can go both ways.

    1. The reviewer must be truthful in their review.
    2. If the reviewer is being truthful and the business view this as “defamation” and try to go after the reviewer for leaving an honest review then that is wrong for the business to do.

    So on both ends have to be 100% honest.

    Now the issue of protecting the identity of the reviewer is another issue.

    If someone had a bad experience with a company and don’t feel “safe” to leave their identity in fear of things like this “defamation” law suits and etc, the reviewer should be able to leave a review with out reveling their identity.

    What should be done is some sort of a 3rd party review system where the 3rd party vets that it is an actual customer and then allows the customer to leave an anonymous review for the public and the business to see.

    Freedom of speech does not mean people are free to make false reviews and put a business out of business in the process or reduce their sales greatly.

    On the other end through businesses can’t mistreat their customers and provide poor service and not expect a poor review as the result of that.

    Then when honest customers leave these poor reviews the business try to hash them up.

    That is not the way it is meant to work.

    People should leave honest and true reviews and the business sees these and do something about it.

    Be it improve their service or product.

    It is not there just to only “promote” their business and bring them more customers.

    It is there to help improve services and products so customers gets great service or products and the result of that improvement or providing a great service or product results in increased sales and customers.

    Should not be the other way around.

    Looking at some Yelp reviews common sense can tell you if it is real or written in the masses to either promote a business or destroy one.

    Yelp on their end should take the responsibly to make sure “fake” reviews are not being made, instead of just accepting payments from businesses that are promoted on their site.

    Yelp should remember they are the middle layer between the business and the customer and should treat both ends equally the same.

    • Dave Landon

      The BBB provide a service exactly as you state with the customer being vetted as real with the object of facilitating a resolution between the customer and business. The rating from the BBB is more fair as it records all complaints and rates a service based on response and problem resolution.

      • http://jacksononthemoon.com Sharon Jackson

        Dave, that is what the BBB is SUPPOSED to do, but in fact does not do. They are a membership based organization, and exist to keep their members happy, not to satisfy unhappy or disgruntled customers.

        There is a service company in the town where I live that routinely rips off immigrants, seniors, single women etc. A respectful complaint was lodged two months ago and it has yet to appear on the site and it certainly has not affected their bogus A rating. :(

        • PRG

          As the intermediary the BBB collects responses from both parties and then reports on the disparity and the resolution. This process can take some time. Once the claim is found to be relevant the issue is posted to the BBB system.

    • Colin Truslove

      The trouble is, as we all know: not all people are honest…

  • http://jtzenterprise.com john sumer

    If you say it, own it. A negative, anonymous post is nothing more than a form of retaliation. If you were wronged to the point you want to broadcast your negative comments, you should be looking to be made whole, not looking for a way to to make the other party less than whole. On the other side of the coin, businesses should not be allowed to benefit from fake, positive reviews. Yet, one of the fastest growing industries on the web today is Reputation Restoring/Protecting/Monitoring. No one needs to hire such a company in order to convince their own clients and customers to go to these sites to post positive, accurate accounts of their transaction.

    It would make Yelp’s product a better one if a name were attached to all reviews. I live in the same area as the carpet cleaner and I am familiar with them. If Yelp has some verifiable complaints they should give the company the contact information and allow them the chance to make the consumer whole, again. That would be the best way to protect the consumer. That is what this site is for, correct?

    • Steve

      “…Reputation Restoring/Protecting/Monitoring. No one needs to hire such a company in order to convince their own clients and customers to go to these sites to post positive, accurate accounts of their transaction.”

      This is a one-sided view. Studies show that people are more likely to be motivated to post negative comments than positive, and that people are more likely to feel empowered to give negative comments online compared to other venues.

      Reputation management done right simply tries to redress this imbalance by gently encouraging real customers with real positive experiences to post their reviews. Nothing sleazy or unethical about that, IMO.

  • http://letmepoint.com Vin Dicarlo

    internet becoming risky to share opinion.

  • http://Www.lmontybodyshop.com Curtis

    I believe in free speech and that is why I can and will write this comment. Small business’ are the back bone of the US economy and when they are falsely accused of an act that never occurred there should be a channel of protection. I do not believe in a system that can organize a group of individuals to be paid and/or compensated through personal benefit while defaming the character and reputation of others work.

    When a system is used to allow extortion of honest hard working individuals a plan of protection should be available.

    Does Yelp have in their terms of service a statement which advises the Yelpers should they make false defamatory statements they will be held personally liable? Do they have any mechanism that would allow a business to verify the post is from a actual customer leaving a real review?

    The channel has provided a means for people to extort money from small business’ with little to no protection. A person will ill intent can start posting negative reviews on a business without any means to verify they are an actual customer. Then if they want they can call a business and pursue a compensation to remove the negative reviews.

    I believe by Yelp provide such a mechanism and once is was identified as a tool for extortion it should have been shut down as a party to the wrong doings. If Yelp was held accountable for the people using their system to extort money’s from honest hard working Americans it would create and produce a legitament business alternative.

    Sadly many honest hard working Americans are being wrongfully accused of acts that never occurred and they need a mechanism of protection that is just as strong as the freedom of speech.

    I own a 3rd generation small business that is one of the most successful body shop in our city. We are under attack by individuals attempting to extort moneys from us for removal of false reviews. We repair over 150 customers a month and we are getting targeted by reviewers that we can not identify as actual clients. As a result many prospective clients have chosen to not do business with us as a result of thinking we are shady and doing people wrong. We are nationally recognized by insurance carriers for top service and have survived 40 years of delivering service to our community.

    We care about the people who trust us to service their needs for collision repair. Should we make a mistake we have a lifetime warranty to guaranty our clients are protected and satisfied. If we actually delivered the service that is reflected on our yelp site how would we stay in business for the same community for over 40 years?

    Yelp has on multiple occasions contacted us to advertise with them and they have stated that if we advertise it will unfiltered many of the reviews that are positive and balance out the negative.reviews. This is riding the line of extortion by the sales individuals who are selling the ads on Yelp.

    As a result of my frustration I started an industry review site that is integrated into the data base of real clients of the business that chose to use our services. We send a email to clients that have actually had their vehicle repaired asking them for their actual sentiment of the business. The response are real reviews from actual clients whether they are good or bad. On average 15 to 25% of the real clients will post a comments about the business.

    We request permission from the client to post the comments and then they are published to the business’ landing page. These are posted whether they are positive or negative. When a business joins our service they agree to allow their verify clients to post reviews positive or negative. Business’ can not alter or change the reviews. We deliver 100% real reviews by real customers.

    Again no channel should allow for extortion of a business. If Yelp allowed for 100% of the reviews to be posted and for a business to guarantee that they had a means of verifying the reviews to be actual clients then I believe a business would be willing to manage the transparency.

    Do not allow the statement of free speech to mask corruption.

    • http://kbdavis07.info Brian Davis

      Hi Curtis,

      Sound like a great ideal you have there!

  • http://www.awninghandyman.co.uk D SUMPTER

    Anyone who leaves a derogatory review and is not prepared to put their name to it, should be prosecuted.
    They should be made to prove their statement.

  • http://www.haul-4u.co.uk steve

    We had a person leave us a negative review on facebook who has never used our services, but complained regarding a third party who was advertising and posting flyers through doors, she said that he swore at her etc we found out that she has been slandering many other firms and also was using foul language at the person delivery the flyers her pals then also added things we ended up with 5 people commenting on our page and none have ever used our services, we also couldnt remove them from our facebook page and ended up having to remove an app, we have 100% feedback from all our customers as we know and treat them all like we were working or doing a job for mam etc we always go and try to do that little bit extra that others wouldnt bother.The review systems need to be sorted out .

  • Bob Doef

    If the story is proven true that people wrote false reviews defaming the company, then they should be fined or jailed. A hefty fine would probably suffice. This has nothing to do with free speech. Slander is not free speech.

  • Mel N

    Privacy is important and slander should be suppressed. BUT so long as a review is a real persons opinion of a business or service then the writers of such reviews should not be revealed. We are all entitled to opinions and shouldn’t have to be a customer to comment on shoddy workmanship.

  • http://www.jnje.com Jay Jay

    If one wishes to be anonymous and considering the NSA scandal in the EU you will / can use a proxy or a multiple proxy setup. Give Big Brother a little more work. BUT back to basics. If you have a real point to bring about and you can proof your accusations who needs to stay anonymous. If I have a problem with a supplier , service company I take care of it directly with them. If after that there is still a problem based on disinterest to solve on behalf of the company and I have solid grounds, … I’m the one who will be going to court.

  • Janice

    We have been the recipient of bogus reviews in the past because our industry in in Orlando and the competition is fierce among transportation companies. We’ve worked hard to get those off and Yelp complied with a couple, but there are still competitors that do this. I believe people should be responsible for what they produce,and any legitimate reviews however, there has to be some balance that protects everyone from being sued over reviews. How that can be done, is for better minds than me. I do hope for all good businesses something can be worked out. There will always be customers that complain about a thread left on a seat or something ridiculous like that, but your good reviews should show the public that this customer just was a pain in rear end and will disregard it. Hopefully someone will come up with a good idea.

  • Bruce

    I agree that in order to be sure that YELP reviewers are actual customers there needs to be some verification process, until there is a better method of verification… The reviewers should have known this was possible if article is correct in saying this possibility was in the terms of use agreement. To allow anyone with a grudge or other reason to post negative comments about any business is not appropriate in any form of speech.

  • http://www.completewebsites.biz Jane Jakeman

    Anonymous reviews should not be allowed to be published at all. One company we webmaster for has had an anonymous negative review which appears to be totally fictitious. The company has not received any complaint, but we cannot identify the ‘complainer’ so are powerless to do anything about it other than ask the publishing web site to take down the negative review.

    My understanding of the future of the internet is 2-tier information. The first tier is ‘absolutely correct’ and from data sources such as governments, local authorities, educationalists, etc and comprises data and information, the second tier is accurate blogging, reviews and second-tier information. Most people who are reading blogs and review want accurate information. They don’t want to read about a blogger’s view and make a decision based on that, only to find out (or not, as the case may be) that the blog is a total fabrication purely for SEO purposes.

  • http://www.hsrinc.org Michael

    I believe that all posted comments should be identified by customers as being done by real customers of the business that they leave a review for.

  • Neil

    Absolutely NO WAY is this right!
    Everybody should complain.

    Freedom or [reasonable] speech is paramount -
    If you force disclosure then you are paranoid,
    Or worse… Dictatorial!

    • Windsun33

      So do you think that anyone – even bots – should be allowed to post anything they want to about a business, even if they are not a customer and know nothing about the business?

  • Carlin

    Internet is probably biggest shit of our artificial life. Deciding to be the part of it you should expect anything!

  • John

    It’s just crappy businesses having a cry like little babies, wanting to know who says bad things about their rotten services.

    If “some” businesses did a better job then nobody would complain about them on Yelp or any other similar place.

    As for the Court thing,…ever heard of a little thing called “FREE SPEECH”…so you can stick your court thing where the sun don’t shine.

    • JR

      Your very statement proves the point… YOU are not a customer of Mr. Hadeed’s, and yet you have determined that his service is “rotten”. How the heck do you know? By the possibly false review that was left him? His company is being harmed by your post, and you have ZERO idea how he operates. SHAME on you!

      I know of many top notch business owners, including myself, that bend over backwards for their customers. All it takes is one “holier -than-thou” “power hungry” blogger or self-appointed “professional critic” to destroy years of hard work.

      This society needs to get it’s head out of it’s arse!

      Btw… Free Speech is for INDIVIDUALS not anonymous nobodies!

  • http://www.rdberge.com RDBerge

    I’ve been approached by an individual offering to write positive reviews for Yelp. Having declined, the business a local restaurant I had been working with has the majority of positive reviews “filtered” out. Yelp in my opinion is a lot like Angie’s List. What they say and actually do is contrary to their claims.

    I believe it’s a good thing to take a hard look at their practices.

  • http://www.loveforeverhandbags.com Philip

    In a world with zero evil, than people should be able to write anonymously, but people are writing negative reviews at the very least not realizing the consequences to the businesses, and at its worst as a competitor to deliberately hurt the business. Also, what part of this debate actually has to do with free speech. Since when does being anonymous have anything to do with free speech? You can still post your reviews and enjoy free speech as long as you give your name.

  • Paul Kennedy

    Why do people leave anonymous reviews? If they were genuine customers of the company concerned and were being honest in their review then presumably they would have no qualms in providing their identities. A good decision by the court!

  • http://www.localtextmarketers.com/ Paul Crane

    Because comments/testimonials can be fabricated, purchased *(from places like Microworkers, etc.) and manipulated, and until the general public understands that an anonymous comment has no value because it cannot be authenticated, web sites claiming to be *serious* about presenting real, genuine commentary about a business’ practices need to ensure identities are exposed. Free speech doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want *without* having to be accountable for it. It means you get to say what you want, and then be accountable for the consequences, should there be any.

    Plus, if you don’t have the strength of conviction to post your comments under your own name, how much value do they really have? And if you don’t post your own name, how does anyone know whether you have a genuine beef, or are in the employ of a competitor trying to tarnish the reputation of another business?

    However, I’m not sure you can “force” this behavior. It might be an idea to have some sort of certification program that companies like Yelp could ascribe to, and then promote the fact that at least a modicum of due diligence has been taken in the presenting of such comments. Visitors could then be educated that such comments are more likely to be genuine, and reflective of a business’ ethics and/or practices.

    • Windsun33

      At the very least, anyone reviewing a company should have to have a verified email address. That alone will stop many of the fake reviews.

  • Mark Daly

    How could I not post a review on Yelp after that? People should be very careful who they upset. Will I now be named and shamed as well?

  • http://christianityetc.org Robert Sherbondy

    “Free speech” should not be used as a justification for lying. False reviews by anonymous “customers” or other parties should not be protected by any claims to the “right” of “free speech”. Individuals who want to publish “reviews” of any business and its products and services should be willing to attach their real names to their reviews and to stand by them if questioned about them. No one can ultimately benefit from “lies” or false reports.

  • Adel

    We too have been victims of completely false or vindictive reviews, on both Yelp and TripAdvisor. We only contest reviews that are suspicious – we know that guests are entitled to post a negative opinion if warranted, and we usually write back a management response and discuss any feedback at our management meetings to help improve what we do, when things are within our realm of control.

    TripAdvisor has been much more accommodating and often removes reviews when it is clear that the person was not a guest. Yelp has been horrible to deal with – not a single review removed, even the most obvious ones. We also know that guests of ours who have posted positive reviews on Yelp have done so, but they have been “filtered” out.

    Removing the anonymous option would make it crystal clear that a guest has not visited, as we could prove with our guest database. All in favor of that. It’s not violating free speech. Everyone has a right to complain. But if it’s not anonymous, they don’t have the right to hide and state false information. That’s a BIG difference!!!

    All said – I don’t trust Yelp one ounce – and wish that we could opt OUT.

  • http://www.villaralfa.com Timo

    I fully agree that people should identify themselves when they are reviewing businesses on the Internet…..whether the review be positive or negative.

    Other web sites such as TripAdvisor have run into problems with this in the past particularly in the UK where negative reviews have been left for hotels which were not even open at the time the reviewer supposedly stayed there.

    If you are prepared to review a business/service/piece of software/music then adding identity to the review makes it more likely that the review is genuine.

    Similarly beware also of a host of positive reviews appearing for somewhere, I have seen a stack of positive reviews posted on TripAdvisor (for instance), all of which were posted by Friends of the owner…One tends to wonder!

  • http://www.reysplac.net Michael Rey

    I am a restaurant owner…and I’ve dealt with Yelp since I’ve opened up shop in (on or about)2010. As far a reviews are concerned, I don’t think someone should be able to mask their identity. Good or bad. This way other owners, including myself can generate honest reviews good or bad. I am aware of places owner’s can purchase reviews with a guarantee. Wow, I was shocked. I don’t think the review issue is the biggest issue. This so called screening process for the reviews is more mysterious. Yelp screens reviews by some kind of secret process as to whether the review gets to be posted on the restaurant page or filtered. I’ve had server 5 star reviews filtered that keep my star ranking on the front page down. Scroll down to the last review and look for a very small red filter word. Click it you’ll see. I believe that this a ploy on Yelp’s part to manipulate advertising sales. If you need any more of the information I’ve stockpiled. Email me and I’ll send you what I’ve got. So know to hidden reviewers identities. PS the filter has a video to support it which makes no sense at all. If one is hiding something. One is up to know good.

  • http://www.asmorejon.ws Antonio Morejon

    We live in the “Land of Magic” and as such, our constitutional rights are nothing but illusions.

  • http://www.reysplace.net Michael Rey

    Sorry my website address is reysplace.net

  • http://dansullivaninsurance.com/ Dan Sullivan

    Its funny because getting real customers who love our services to post a review is like pulling teeth! But the bad reviews and the fake ones are rampant.

  • Peter

    When did expressing an anonymous opinion become free speech?

  • Colin Truslove

    “Free speech” has never and should never be entirely free. If it is defamatory, then it deserves to be restricted. However proving an anonymous comment is defamatory may well be very difficult, but a court should in my view be able to order the revelation of a reviewer’s identity if on balance the court can be convinced of a reasonable likelihood that the comment is dishonest/defamatory.
    Also if we want “free speech”, I believe we should also have the accompanying courage of our convictions and be prepared to lose anonymity in certain circumstances.

  • http://www.scaredycats.com Jonathan Grant

    If you are going to post a review that is that negative, than own up to it. It gives the proprietor a chance to correct a problem or identify an issue. If the reivew is that offensive than perhaps dont make it, mail a letter instead to the owner.

  • http://NOYB.com JR

    The 7 negative reviewers of Hadeed’s service may simply have created slightly inaccurate reviews intentionally to prevent themselves from being identified by Hadeed (who himself seems to admits that he tries “to match the negative reviews with its customer database” ).

    When I create negative review of a SHOP onYELP (especially, a shop that I may have to return to simply becuase there is only one place like it in my area) my negative review includes intentionally misleading breadcrumbs to steer the shop owner AWAY from identifying me. This does not mean that it is a FAKE review. It is simply a review designed to prevent the shop owner from knowing who I am vie his “database” and taking revenge on me somehow during our next transaction. My negative also serves to hopefully inform the shop owner of a bad service and an implicit request to improve that service.

    • JR

      Note: This poster is not to be confused with the above poster.

      This also proves why anonymous posting is a bad idea.

  • http://www.Disneyland.com Rides at Disneyland

    FAIR AND REASONABLE

    First of all, I think YELP should be responsible and accountable for ALL the reviews it showcases and profits from. They should be required to do INDEPENDENT RESEARCH on each review. They should also be legally liable for each review. I know that sounds impossible, but YELP IS RUINING THOUSANDS of businesses by their IRRESPONSIBLE behavior. They are destroying 1000s of businesses by NOT allowing “FAIR AND REASONABLE” pursuit of allegations made on these websites. I also feel YELP should be 100% responsible and liable for ALL the reviews it showcases. Since they don’t allow a “FAIR, REASONABLE and PRIVATE DISPUTE” policy to get reviews removed. They should be LIABLE FOR IT. My business had a stalker and she destroyed our company for 6 months until I finally got the reviewer to remove the comments SHE LIED about because she began to see the damage the lies caused. I’d describe who we are on YELP but I’m afraid that if YELP discovered even who I am, they will do something bad to us and destroy us yet again. I really believe that. I called YELP and CALLED Yelp. They avoided our calls. They told us to call lawyers if something appears to be false on the website while not disclosing to us who the person was who complained. We were going to do that but they refused to give us the identity of the person who was defaming us online. I mean, I THINK YELP NEEDS TO GO! They want to sell advertising (PROFIT) off of FALSE REVIEWS of businesses. Where is JUSTICE? Where is their liability? If a newspaper FALSELY reported the news, they would be liable. Why does YELP GET TO DESTROY AMERICA and profit from it? WHY?

    • Extorted By Yelp Reviewer

      So True! Similar has happened to us. Extorted by a false review.
      And if you complain or try to take action against the reviewer as we did, Yelp not only filters all your positive reviews but also targets your personal yelp account and your business and prevents any positive reviews from appearing. Yelp is the equivalent of a modern day protection racket hiding behind so called free speech.

      It is completely reprehensible and a true conflict of interest for a company such as Yelp to have both the power to destroy and profit from what is said about another business.

      The government should enact new laws to protect small business. For one thing, they should have the option of removing themselves from Yelp.

      We had some positive unfiltered reviews. Soon after Yelp called us about advertising. We declined and presto our positive reviews were filtered.

      Also, Google is putting Yelp first on review searches which is what really hurts us and gives Yelp strength. Google should not place great emphasis on Yelp reviews because they are anything but real! Small business is hurting because of Yelp. This isnt right.

      Also, some business’s don’t get many customers so even one bad review can last many months before another a positive comes a long, assuming it is not filtered! We dont have hundreds of clients a week like some restaurants… we only have about 30 customers per year. Our service is high value and as a result can easily be destroyed by one bad review. We should be protected in such a case.

  • http://www.wp-admin.info John Mauldin

    This is a question of responsibility. Yelp has to take responsibility for their actions as well as the company who provides services and the individual that posts a comment. Yelp should not be allowed to arbitrarily post comments from anyone who is unregistered because there is no accountability. It is not at all uncommon for people to place negative comments about competitors. It happened in various ways a long time before the net came along. And there are people who simply must complain when their complaints are unfounded. Like the woman who you agree to wash her windows and once you have given a price and started the project, she asks for all kinds of additional services unrelated to the quoted task. If you don’t perform the additional services then you get slammed with a negative comment. For years, I have told my clients to get accounts set up with the consumer review sites and to encourage their clients to post reviews about them. All too often, companies neglect this and, as a consequence, have no reviews. So when someone posts a negative review, it stands out like a “sore thumb”. And at that juncture, the company has to run the equivalent of “damage control”. No one should be allowed to place negative comments about another unless they are capable of substantiating their claim and no one should be able to do this anonymously.

  • Dave

    I’m all for free speech but if you are going to leave a review, negative or positive, then yes I think you should NOT be able to remain anonymous. I don’t consider the right to free speech and anonymity to be intrinsically tied together. Negative reviews can destroy a business and if they aren’t true that’s not fair and it’s unethical. A compeitor can hurt another business by doing this, some people exaggerate and even goes as far to make things up and others misinterpret things as slights or have unreal expectations on services and products. If your going to slam someone or a company you should have the guts to say who you are. We have this ill conceived notion that you have the right to remain anonymous all the time on the internet. Well I’m sorry, few things in this life or this world are absolute and internet anonymity is not one of them.

  • Ted

    If you are an attorney forming any type of lawsuit against Yelp, please contact me. I have a situation where I was greatly damaged by one reviewer who use to work for a company that worked directly with Yelp and improving online business images. The company she worked with claims to have direct relationships with YELP. She was a specialist who sold her services to help you IMPROVE your online image and used those same relationships to destroy our company. She had over 150 Yelp reviews so all her reviews went directly to the TOP of the business pages of those she decided to target. When we finally uncovered her anonymity by hiring a private investigator, she continued to give us bad Yelp reviews even when we found out she had never been a customer of our. Furthermore, we discovered through our Private Investigator she worked for our competitor. She was intentionally working to destroy our image online and she was a PROFESSIONAL at it. Once I discovered who she was, I reported to Yelp via their “Terms of Service” policy regarding not leaving reviews regarding your competitors. When I exposed her to them, they knew her. Since they knew her, they explained that they knew her and that she would never FALSELY report on a business. Though their terms of service clearly stated that someone could not work for a competitor, they decided that because they knew her, they weren’t going to remove the bad Yelp review. The review wasn’t just bad. The review made such inflamed claims that we didn’t get any new business for 6 months. We were the leaders in our market and now nothing. Before this, people came into our business always claiming to have read our 5 star reviews on Yelp. She bad mouthed us on YELP and no new business for 6 months (until she removed the review). The minute she removed the YELP review, we got new business (and a lot of it).

    YELP is a criminal organization. It’s the ONLINE MAFIA. If you are an attorney forming a lawsuit against YELP, please contact me via the email attached to this posting. I do not want to give out anymore reference to my business because I know Yelp targets business who they feel they can get money out of, so I have to be less descriptive in my announcing who I am. Also, please report your law firm as I will have to research your firm and your employment there before contacting you back as I’m sure YELP will be reviewing these postings.

    People, this is a criminal organization. They are not about FREE SPEECH. Free Speech is when you walk into a public situation and the words are coming out of your mouth. You are liable for it. Yelp provides people an opportunity to no practice FREE SPEECH. They have a business set up to EXTORT MONEY OUT OF PEOPLE. Nothing about that is FREE! At least allow me the right to clear my name in court. If we discover the person was lying about my business, you need to make sure that person not only pays for my legal defense, but all damages to my business.

  • M. Harrer

    Absolutely, anyone who posts a review should do so under their own name! Studies have shown that anonymity allows and even encourages people to say destructive and terrible things which they would not say under their own names. It encourages bullies and destructive comments. Free speech does not mean anonymous speech. It means every individual is entitled to say what ever they wish, but they must also be identified.

  • http://www.webdesignjustforyou.com Eileen Forte

    I think people who want to say something should be able to back it up by revealing who they are. Or keep quiet.

  • Kelly R.

    Any review of a company should incude a trackback to the person posting the comment. If a person publicly and falsely defames someone outside of the Intenet they can be sued so the same standard should apply for the Internet. As a business owner I should be able to find out who posted a false claim aganst me so I can legally persue them for any financial damage they may have caused as a result of their comments.

  • clarkg

    This article seems to be very pro Yelp – did Yelp pay off the author? Yelp is the dirtiest company to come along in forever, and they should be shut down. This isn’t about free speech, it’s about Extortion. Yelp has a “filter” and you can pay Yelp hundreds monthly to control your own filter, so only the reviews you want to be seen are available. Makes the service at best completely meaningless, and at worst a giant, worldwide extortion of fees from businesses that want a good rep (or just to avoid a bad one). The filter can be found in tiny, hard to see letters, in parenthesis, at the very bottom of all the reviews – see for yourself! Click on it! You’ll see!

  • John Owles

    Yes

  • Gale R

    I would like to add that I posted a negative review about a doctor visit I had. The doctor called me to discuss it, and he made comments that exasperated the situation further. Then, suddenly my review was HIDDEN from public view. My guess is that maybe he bought some yelp advertising – otherwise how could that take place?

  • http://cwcrafts.com phil

    If you are going to leave a comment then you should be required to post your name and address. That way if your comment is false you could be sued or prosecuted.

  • Gale R

    OOH, I didn’t see that comment from ClarkG. Just as I suspected.

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