The Australian legal system is slowly catching up with issues caused by reviews of personal experiences with businesses on social media sites.
One of the myriad of challenges created by this rapidly growing trend is the ability for users to make statements either anonymously or under a pseudonym. In some cases the claims may be demonstrably false or misleading or downright defamatory. Business proprietors have faced great difficulties in getting assistance from the review sites to investigate the source of the reviews. Even when evidence has been provided that a claim is fallacious, getting it removed can be a long and arduous process. In some instances business owners have incurred substantial legal costs and loss of income, not to mention emotional stress.
Things appear to be changing, as indicated by the case of a Melbourne dentist who has been given permission by the Federal Court to serve Google to attempt to find out the personal details of an anonymous account that left a bad review about his practice.
As reported in The Guardian:
Federal court justice Bernard Murphy gave leave to seek from Google a document that would contain the account’s subscriber information, name of users, the IP addresses that logged into the account, phone numbers, other metadata and other Google accounts that might have used the same IP address at a similar time as the review was left.
It is the latest in an increasing number of defamation cases brought against Google and other online reviewer sites, which have been reluctant to remove bad reviews.
Google has argued that defamation threats can be used to suppress information that might help customers steer clear of bad businesses, and that it should only remove reviews with a court order.
It followed a judgment in the South Australian Supreme Court last week awarding $750,000 in damages to Adelaide barrister Gordon Cheng for an October 2018 review left in English and Chinese on Google, claiming Cheng gave “false and misleading advices”.