Anonymity of Comments on Yelp! and TripAdvisor

Jan 2015 | Business

The Internet is often a prime space for businesses to market to and reach their customers. However, the Internet also presents a litany of potential pitfalls for businesses that do not have an appropriate strategy to address feedback written by customers. Comments, criticism, and praise about businesses are hosted on a variety of websites, such as Yelp! and AngiesList, that allows anonymous members of the internet public to leave reviews about a business. One of the more hotly contested issues about these forums is whether the website hosting a review written by an anonymous third-party may be compelled to release identifying information about the reviewer—in other words, may a website be forced to give the real identity of a user who left a review on the website?

Another recent decision had the opposite result. See Music Group Macao Comm’l Offshore Ltd. v. Does I-IX, 2015 WL 75073 (N.D. Cal., January 6, 2015). In Music Group, the court found that a defamation plaintiff’s interest in knowing the names of anonymous Twitter users outweighed those parties’ first amendment rights. The court found that the plaintiff’s requests were specific enough to specific enough to allow service of process on the anonymous defendants—whose speech presented a colorable action for defamation, rather than being speech comprised of mere criticism. See also Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 591 F.3d 1126 (9th Cir. 2009).

If you have questions about how the internet and applicable laws affect your business, contact Greg Haffner at Curran Law Firm, P.S.—Experienced, dedicated, and responsive legal representation located in South King County.