An Australian court has ordered Google to identify an anonymous user who gave a negative review to a Melbourne dental surgeon, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports. Dr. Matthew Kabbabe says a reviewer’s comment posted about three months ago urged others to “stay away” from his practice, which damaged his business.
Under the judge’s ruling, Google has to turn over any identifying details including location metadata and IP addresses for the user who posted under the name “CBsm 23.” It also has to provide information about other Google accounts originating from the same IP address during the same time span. Google had refused a request from Kabbabe in November to take down the negative review, and a request earlier this month to identify the user, according to Kabbabe’s attorney Mark Stanarevic. He says Google told his client it did not “have any means to investigate where and when the ID was created.”
Kabbabe wants to use any information gathered to pursue legal action against CBsm 23, Stanarevic told Australian publication The Age. “We want to find out who this is; it could be a competitor or former employee, we just don’t know,” he said.
In the US, the Consumer Review Fairness Act, signed into law in 2016 by President Obama, prohibits companies from writing gag clauses into contracts or terms of service that limit a customer from sharing bad reviews. But as Engadget notes, that law may not apply to defamatory comments, and US companies are required under the Hague Convention to provide information when requested by foreign courts.
In Australia, courts can force removal of some online content under its defamation laws, and while large corporations can’t sue under those laws, small businesses and nonprofits can. In order to sue someone for a bad review under Australia’s anti-defamation laws, the review or comment has to mention the person either directly or indirectly.