The details of Yelp users who post negative comments have got to be made public, a US court has ruled.
The decision comes after court action was taken by a carpet cleaning firm, which claimed that seven bad reviews had been left by spurious web writers, not real customers.
The court ruled that if reviews were ‘based on a false statement’, there is no protection for user anonymity under the American Constitution’s First Amendment.
A statement issued by the judge in Virginia, where the action was brought in front of the court, said:
“Generally, a Yelp review is entitled to First Amendment protection because it is a person’s opinion about a business that they patronised.
“[However] 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.”
Lawyers for the US-based business review site were disappointed with the verdict. Claiming that the carpet cleaning firm had not done enough to justify the ruling, they claimed that it will make finding valuable information about firms more difficult.
A spokesman for Yelp hit out at the ruling in stronger terms. Releasing a statement, Vince Sollitto said:
“We are disappointed that the Virginia Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that fails to adequately protect free speech rights on the internet.”
Sollitto went on to claim the action will see businesses seek out personal details of reviewers with a view to reducing fair criticism.