Real Victims of Fake Online Reviews
Last June, I wrote a blog about a case in Virginia where the court allowed the subject of a Yelp! review to force Yelp! to reveal the identity of the person who wrote the anonymous review. The subject of the reviews presented evidence that the reviews were bogus. But in my blog, I wondered if Yelp! itself had a claim:
So we’ll see. But I am more interested in how Yelp (and other online review sites) deal with the “rock and a hard place” position these cases put them in.
On the one hand, Yelp needs to protect the anonymity of its users. Legitimate reviewers should feel free to post their opinions without sacrificing their privacy.
But on the other hand, bogus reviews, and the perception that any review might be bogus, could potentially kill the Yelp business model.
So Yelp itself has an interest in rooting out the fiction from the fact. In short, Yelp may not be completely devastated no matter what happens in the Virginia Supreme Court.
Well, I don’t know if the folks at Amazon read my blog or not, but Amazon recently filed a lawsuit against the operators of sites that allegedly offer Amazon sellers the ability to purchase fake 4 and 5 star customer reviews of their products.
Amazon brought the suit in a California state court against Jay Gentile, who apparently operates a site called buyamazonreviews.com. The suit also names “John Does” who operate similar sites. And here is how the lawsuit describes its Amazon’s objective:
“While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand.” Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews.”
I think Amazon is doing the right thing. The reviews have absolutely no value if they’re not authentic, and if customers don’t perceive them as authentic. Amazon and other review sites absolutely have the right to protect the value of their service.