A Virginia appeals court has sided with the trial court below it in ruling that Yelp must reveal the identities of seven anonymous reviewers who posted negative comments about a carpet cleaning service. The owner of the service, Joe Hadeed, believed that these users were not actually customers of his service (which would violate Yelp’s terms of service), and indeed they could all be one person with multiple sock-puppet accounts (despite Yelp’s slogan of “Real People. Real Reviews”), so he had his attorneys issue a subpoena requesting their names.
The court said that, while users have first-amendment rights to express themselves anonymously in general, those rights do not cover deliberately false statements and that Hadeed had met the state’s standard for unmasking people who post potentially libelous comments online.
The article doesn’t say whether Yelp plans to appeal this decision further, though I would expect them to do so. It suggests that if this decision holds, it could have implications for the future of online anonymity. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Maybe it could have implications for people who post false reviews online—that’s the whole reason the court was willing to order the revelation, that Hadeed had given sufficient cause to suspect the reviews were false. And people really shouldn’t be posting false reviews anyway, anonymously or otherwise.
(Found via The Passive Voice.)