Yelp lost a case. Yelp doesn’t lose too many cases, so this is a big deal and should have an impact on the legal environment surrounding online reviews. Basically, in a highly controversial decision, the Virginia Court of Appeals sided with Hadeed Carpet, which argued 7 negative reviews left on Yelp were damaging to the business. Joe Hadeed, the owner of Hadeed Carpet, alleged that Yelp should be required to share information about customers’ identities given that Yelp’s Terms of Service dictate that reviews must be left by real customers. Further, Mr. Hadeed argued that no such customers existed matching the profiles provided by the reviewers based on their reviews.
In other words, who is writing those negative reviews??? This question has plagued many a Matador Solutions client, and it’s an extremely fair point of discomfort.
In the vast majority of cases, the court has determined that the right to free speech precedes Yelp sharing any information or even being liable for anything. In this case, it would seem an interesting argument is being made on behalf of privacy. Sure, someone can say anything that they want, but is it also necessarily true that they can do so under complete anonymity? Historical precedent in terms of whistleblowers, for example, suggests yes.
But maybe not. Either way, if Yelp is forced to share the personal identities of those who leave negative reviews, there will be enormous implications for your ability as a business owner or manager to manage your online reputations.
I mean, is there a chance Yelp reviews are being left by your competitors or disgruntled employees?
Well, there’s definitely a chance. Go find out!