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Court to Yelp: Reveal names of negative reviewers (cnet.com)
95 points by passepartout 1348 days ago | hide | past | web | 71 comments | favorite

The Courthouse News Service article [1] is a little more detailed. What stood out to me was the following bit:

> The business sued [..] and subpoenaed Yelp to learn the identities of the anonymous reviewers. Yelp repeatedly refused to respond to it, however, leading the trial court to hold Yelp in contempt.

My first thought was, "Gee, that's either lazy or clueless of Yelp!" IANAL; was there a better strategy for Yelp, presuming they wanted to fight user info disclosure at all costs?

[1] http://www.courthousenews.com/2014/01/09/64385.htm

> IANAL; was there a better strategy for Yelp, presuming they wanted to fight user info disclosure at all costs?

When you receive a subpoena that you don't believe is proper, what you are supposed to do is file a motion to quash the subpoena. Ignoring the subpoena is not usually going to go over well.

Interesting how that was omitted from the article. Given that and the choices of words and phrases made by the author, this article is clearly biased in favor of Yelp.

Are we reading the same article? It starts by rubbishing Yelp reviews and painting them as extremely unreliable. I don't think that someone biased in favour of a company would be quite so disparaging about the service they provide.

You can be in favour of a particular result in a court case for reasons of supporting a particular outcome in general, without any need to be biased in favour of any of the participants in particular.

Could the exposed users sue Yelp? It doesn't seem like Yelp fulfilled their duty to protect them if they failed to respond to the subpoena.

>We may investigate and disclose information from or about you if we have a good faith belief that such investigation or disclosure is (a) reasonably necessary to comply with legal process and law enforcement instructions and orders, such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, judicial proceeding, or other legal process served on us

Their privacy policy is very easy on the courts.

> Their privacy policy is very easy on the courts

In fairness to Yelp, their privacy policy can hardly say "we won't give your data up in response to a subpoena", because if the subpoena was legitimate they'd be in contempt. Yelp can certainly challenge the validity of a subpoena, but that's not something they would be putting in a privacy policy.

I would be on their side if it said "good faith belief that such investigation or disclosure is reasonably necessary". That is to say they would defend against frivolous nonsense (and perhaps lose making it necessary). It would be nice to know they had something akin to a spine.

Does Yelp have any duty to "protect" them?

Most of the EULAs / privacy agreements that I've bothered reading typically state that they will not share your private info with any 3rd party, but may share it with law officers as part of a criminal investigation. Also, as I understand it, I can sue anybody for just about any infraction- imagined or otherwise. Doesn't mean I would win, of course, but that's beside the point.

IANAL, don't use Yelp, have never read their agreements, and don't know if this situation could even be construed to be a criminal investigation.

> may share it with law officers as part of a criminal investigation

Isn't this a civil investigation?

IANAL, TINLA, but I think the SCA, 18 USC ยง 2703(e) would protect them from being sued. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2703#e

Some people take their Yelp reviews too seriously. I've been to several places that I went to because of their positive score on Yelp only to hear them upset because of the one negative Yelp review they got. I have to say: getting upset because of one or even a handful of negative reviewers is petty. Just about every business that has a significant amount of reviews is going to have one or two. On the other hand, if a business has a ton of negative reviews, that's something to be concerned about.

I seriously doubt the solution in either case is to sue the people leaving the negative reviews.

Some customers take themselves too seriously.

I've worked in the service industry, and the vast majority of customers are great, but some just want to cause trouble and blame it on the business because they are in a bad mood or something. I really never understood it.

I went to go to a walk in place to get my blood drawn. They took appointments, but the vast majority were walk in patients. There were tons of people there, I could have left and came back, but I wanted to get it over with so I sat down and prepared to wait. There was one employee drawing blood. This other lady came in after me, sat down, then started FLIPPING OUT and making a scene "WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG!? THIS PLACE IS TERRIBLE, I AM LEAVING!" and stormed out in a fit after causing some trouble beforehand for a few minutes. It was a true temper tantrum. um I don't know did you see the waiting room? Did you have an appointment? No. Nobody can predict how many people are going to get blood drawn that day. The poor person drawing blood was so flustered trying to answer questions, she was like "I'm sorry, I'm not the fastest." After she left the whole waiting room just looked at each other and was like "what's with her?" Then a bunch of people appoligised to the person drawing blood, because it was out of her hands, and she didn't do anything wrong at all, and she didn't deserve to be treated like that.

Each time I've gone in there since I have been the only one there, and have been in and out in only a few minutes, so that day seemed to be an anomaly.

Your theory really only works for places with a large amount of reviews (positive or negative). When you have only a handful of reviews, the need for authenticity grows because they carry much more weight.

You would need much more data points to avoid the noise of fake reviews.

That's not much different from any other form of word-of- mouth advertising. If anything, it's worse.

"Did you hear about restaurant x?"

"They suck. Don't go there."

If you've only got one friend who's been there, that's all the data you have. At least with Yelp, you can see reviews from people you've never met. The big difference between Yelp and any other form of word-of-mouth advertising is that the business owner can actually see the reviews people are giving to others.

I find the Yelp reviews pretty hilarious, especially dives, I go to this one place all the time that does $2.95 cent breakfast (full plate, coffee, etc) and many reviews talk about how the breakfast was greasy, etc. I'm wondering what kind of culinary miracle they expected to happen for $2.95 cents.


I wonder if the people on yelp ever go to metal shows and wonder why it's so loud.

Yelp is where people go to get recommendations and people with unrealistic expectations are given a soap box to pontificate.

I'm not saying every negative review is uncalled for, but I can't count the number of times I've heard someone say, "Fine, I'll write about this on Yelp." It's supposed to be a recommendation tool, not a weapon for revenge.

Yelp might be the most special-snowflake place on the internet.

I tend to ignore the negative reviews since 9 times out of 10 the people leaving them have a ridiculous sense of their self-importance.

It's more useful to focus on the positive reviews and if they're telling you the place has what you're looking for.

I really miss Zagat for restaurant reviews. (Thanks for nothing Google.) It seemed to attract a much more thoughtful and informed type of reviewer. For lack of better options, Yelp is still better than nothing but you get a lot of reviewers with seriously unrealistic expectations. My favorite are the reviews for things like (relatively) not-too-expensive NYC hotels that complain about things like the room being too small.

Okay now you have me interested... I might have to try this place.

Man $2.95 in Vancouver that's unheard of! lol.

I'd personally be afraid of any meal that costs only $2.95 in Canada... And if I did give in, I'd consider not getting food poisoning to be a positive outcome.

> It made me so incredibly sick. I've never eaten a breakfast that actually gave me a headache AND made me want to puke.

I'm not sure if this is so much looking for a culinary miracle as looking for something non-toxic.

at least with word of mouth, i can gauge the veracity of their statement.

If I know Bob has unrealistic expectations, I'll take his opinion with a grain of salt. I would only know that because I'm Bob's friend.

If Jane says "They suck. Don't go there." but in more words, I tend to take it at face value and place less significance on any individual review.

I have one friend, if he says it's good, it's good. I have another friend, if he says it's bad, you can ignore him. Knowing your reviewers adds _a lot_ of context to the review, and you lose that online IMO.

perhaps they (or any review site) could only show reviews only after they get a minimum number?

That one negative review costs money.

Beyond that - Googling the name of the business will almost always show a Yelp link below and will display the star rating within the search results. Bad stars = no business.

According to Amazon: "Even a product with negative reviews sells better than a product with no reviews at all." (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/10/29/241372607/top-revi...)

I know a roofer whose business suffered badly after a bad review on Angie's List. He didn't sue. I don't know the ins and outs of the job in the review, but he did good work for us.

Amy's Baking Company.

Boy that one worked out well.

Is a common believe by some people that the business model of Yelp for big restaurants is plain old extortion: "Please Pay us a fee to have premium priority! Otherwise some strange negative reviews may appear that you cannot refute nor delete."

I believe the details of the extortion scam is that if you don't pay up, they "flag" all of the positive reviews so that they are not shown by default and not included in the average. The algorithm for flagging is of course "proprietary."

Hey, that's the BBB we are talking about here.


Watch the whole video if you haven't seen it before.

It is also a common belief by some people that homeopathy is effective.

I believe there are some instances where business owners claim that Yelp offered to 'make bad reviews go away' if they sign up the premium service (i.e. start paying Yelp money). Even if Yelp! doesn't mess with the reviews otherwise (flagging positive reviews, creating bogus negative reviews, etc), that seems very much anti-user (at least towards the people looking for recommendations).

Yeah, but homeopathy has no financial incentive to work. Chemistry just doesn't care about things like revenue. Yelp! on the other hand...

It is also a common belief by some people that breathing air is necessary to stay alive

There is just too many beliefs, we need an app to destroy them all. /cj /s

How else would you defend against competitors, extortionists, or ex-husbands destroying your business through straw Yelp reviews? Serious question.

Allowing names to be exposed by court order doesn't solve this problem -- people will just sign up with throwaway email addresses and, possibly, use Tor.

The best solution is a combination of reviewer reputation and compatibility matching. First, very few people are going to go to the trouble of creating a bunch of valuable reviews just to build up enough karma to be able to smear a particular business.

Then, even if someone were that motivated, if Yelp weighted the reviews I see based on how closely my reviews matched the reviewer's past reviews[], standalone smears would have very little impact.

[] Yes, I know that sentence should be taken out and shot.

>people will just sign up with throwaway email addresses and, possibly, use Tor.

But what if real name was forced, like on facebook or google? There's plenty of precedent now if a judge wanted to declare that as a minimum amount of due diligence.

I can't comment at the Chicago Tribune without telling them who I went to high school with (through facebook comments.)

>But what if real name was forced, like on facebook

Facebook doesn't force real names in practice, I know a bunch of people who have Facebook pages under non-real names and a bunch of joke ones, ones for dogs, one for a trash can. Really, Facebook doesn't seem to care to enforce these.

Facebook doesn't force real names. But they do sometimes force you to use a fake name.

If your real name is Ben Dover or Mike Hunt, or Mike Michaels-Michaelson, then you might have to use a fake name.

And yet this happened a couple of years ago: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/salman-rus...

How realistic is that? Neither facebook nor google require a photo id\birth certificate so real name is vaguely plausible name + we will kick you off if we find out you lied. Not exactly something that I would present to a judge as evidence.

Sometimes, Facebook does require a driver's license or Government-issued ID:

It's happened several times over the past few years. That's the most recent occurrence.

Knowing it came from a throw away would give the plaintiff evidence that is fake, which will pressure yelp to take it down.

I believe Yelp and other sites that offer user reviews already implement strategies like that, weighing comments according to a reputation score based on comment frequency, average rating, bad language, time of/between submissions, IPs, etc. There is an article about that somewhere.

Last I heard, Yelp blocks all Tor exits. So no, Tor won't work.

Excellent question. I don't have a solid answer, but slander and libel claims could form a civil case, while intimidation, physical threats and using social media to extort could be criminal. I would file both a restraining order and a temporary injunction.

Frankly, I'm concerned for small businesses and raise a flag on using reviews as a leading source of authority.

It's a broken system that Yelp (and other intermediaries) should definitely be held accountable for perpetuating.

Have the identities reviewed by a third party against your client list.

The issue here is that they claim the reviewers aren't legitimate customers, so the reviews are fake. If this is true, just verifying them would solve the problem without revealing who they are. If they turned out to be fake, then the business should be able to take some action at that point.

Good idea, but not feasible for a restaurant:)

For one that is going to a court to subpoena records from Yelp it is, I wasn't proposing a way to stop fake reviews, just to meet between releasing data and unmasking people's names who may have written legitimate reviews.

Yelp only hurts (or helps) small new businesses. (McDonald's doesn't need, care, or probably know Yelp).

Small business owners invest lots of there personal money, time, sweat, and tears and don't need some stupid brat posting some garbage on Yelp because they were not happy with the $25 they spent.

I guess Yelp is more popular in America. Here in London I don't know anyone who uses it and I never heard anyone mention it.

That's because Yelp made the strange decision to spend years as a US-only service. I'll never understand why internet companies do that unless there are compelling legal or logistical reasons. In Yelp's case I believe they were using Google Maps from the very beginning, so expansion would have been trivial.

Recently they bought and absorbed Qype, which in the absence of Yelp has been the dominant service in Germany at least. That should give them more of a foothold in Europe.

There are, in fact, compelling legal reasons to not launch products involving user generated content for local businesses in other countries. At a bare minimum, your liability for libelous reviews is different in each country and dealing with that alone is a logistical nightmare. Quite a few other reasons as well, but that's a start.

I'm in America. I don't know anyone who uses it and I never hear anyone mention it, either. I tried it a couple of times and it's maybe 5% more useful than Google Maps?

Are you in a non super-urban area?

> Currently, Yelp reviews of the business are less stellar than, for example, reviews on Hadeed Carpet Cleaning's own site.

I'm shocked that a company's website has better reviews than an independent third-party review site. Someone call the lawyers.

Reports of bed bugs is the giveaway to a competitor's fake review for me. Almost always such reviewer has made only 1 review.

Really? I don't review anything on Yelp, but getting bed bugs from a hotel seems like the sort of thing that would make me sign up just to write one bad review.

I'm willing to throw those babies out with the bath water. I've been to too many hotels that were fine, where every reviewer with only one review had nothing but awful things to say. I find that to be too much of a coincidence.

"CNet is now available in spanish!! Close [x]"

Click close.

Click close again.

Clickity, clickity, click. No dice.

Open JavaScript console. "ReferenceError: om is not defined"

Thank you CNet!

You may not be able to make everyone happy always. Instead of suing your customers for negative comments, it may be better to try and improve your product/service.

Surprised these businesses aren't flooded with one star reviews that simply state that the businesses have sued someone over a negative review.

The article mentions that one such review is now the second-from-top on Yelp for this business.

And, once they have the identity of the yelp reviewers, they can go over to the rip off report website and post, anonymously, the most hideous and vile things about the reviewer and expose their private and personal information without any recourse whatsoever.

Smart tactic. Get their identity and then go harass them. That'll teach them to leave reviews about services and products they have paid for!

The reviewer can do the same. Getting into a pissing match with an individual as a business is a bad business move.

Wowsa. Has anyone considered using TOR to post reviews?

Yelp blocks their entire site from Tor. If you try to visit, you will just get a 403 forbidden.

citation: I run a tor exit node.

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