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U.S. Court Order Yelp To Reveal Identities of Anonymous Critics

 3:18 pm on Jan 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

This is an interesting case in the sense that it claims the 'critics' were not users or customers of the service.

Users who have posted negative comments on the online review site Yelp must be identified, a US court has ordered.

The case involved the owner of a carpet-cleaning business who told the court bad reviews written about his company were not from real customers.

The court said anonymous users were not protected by the First Amendment, which allows free speech, if the review "is based on a false statement".U.S. Court Order Yelp To Reveal Identities of Anonymous Critics [bbc.co.uk]



 6:56 pm on Jan 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

Community operators can be forced to disclose member info, even if it's only IP address and registration email, if a judge so orders.

At least there's no indication that Yelp is being held liable for derogatory reviews, phony or otherwise.


 8:41 pm on Feb 3, 2014 (gmt 0)

September 2013, I had a major issue where, IMO, a corrupt local Sheriff's deputy and a rubber stamp judge decided to force me to violate our users 1st Amendment rights so that they could bully and intimidate someone. I'll gladly post more details if interested.

The point, though, is that due to that, we stopped collecting any identifying information (including IP addresses) in correlation with usernames. Yes, it's a little inconvenient when we need to suspend someone, but I'll not be put in that position again.

In the US, Yelp (and us) are protected by the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Section 230, so all they can do is force us to release information. But if there's no information to be had... :-)


 3:23 pm on Feb 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

Interesting strategy, GoNC. Most community operators rely on that kind of data to keep track of abusive members, phony aliases, etc. Yelp has enough difficulty cracking down on phony reviews without giving up one more tool.

But you make a great point - no info, nothing to reveal.

I wonder if there's a market for an offshore community management service... they could be instructed to notify you of potential abuse (E.g., three members posting from the same IP) or even ban the IPs of members that you flag. But, you wouldn't have the actual data and compelling them to disclose it would be essentially impossible.

Considering the shoestring budget of most communities and the infrequency of privacy violations by authorities, it's probably an idea that won't happen soon.


 10:51 pm on Feb 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

From my experience, IPs don't help that much, anyway; at least, not when you're dealing with a local market. Smaller ISPs re-use the same IP over and over, and some ISPs (like AOL) only have 2 or 3 IPs in the entire region (meaning, everyone has one of 3 IPs).

Not to mention all of the large networks that share a single IP; think, libraries, colleges, etc. I could block an abusive user by IP, and accidentally block 10,000 people!

I don't want to post what we do as an alternative (obviously, anyone that knows who I am could read it and figure out how to get around it), but we have developed a system for blocking that's a lot more effective. Not perfect, of course, but better. And if we could do that, then really, so could Yelp.


 4:37 am on Feb 5, 2014 (gmt 0)

Things may change in the future with different laws/regs being passed all the time. Some major ISPs are required to maintain all records for three years and "meta data" is finding its way into US law in particular. Imagine what that might mean if such laws applied to ALL websites as well. Oh... I just had a waking nightmare. :(

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