A dental surgeon in Australia is fighting to uncover the identity of an online reviewer who posted negative comments about his clinic.
Matthew Kabbabe says the comments are unfair and have caused his business harm.
In a bid to unmask the anonymous reviewer, Kabbabe has persuaded a federal court judge in Melbourne to order Google to reveal the person’s identity so that he can launch a defamation case, ABC reported.
The review at the center of the dispute, posted by someone with the username “CBsm 23,” appeared on Google’s business pages late last year. Kabbabe noted that it was the only entry to contain negative comments about his dental clinic, with the others all showing the maximum five stars.
The reviewer claimed that a procedure carried out at the clinic was not “done properly” and had been a “complete waste of time.” The person recommended others to “stay away” from having the same work done by Kabbabe because, he or she wrote, the experience had been “extremely awkward and uncomfortable.”
The court order means that Google is required to give Kabbabe personal information about the reviewer such as their name, phone number, location metadata, and IP addresses linked to the person’s online account.
Kabbabe asked Google several months ago to remove the anonymous review, but the web giant refused. More recently, he asked the company for details about the reviewer, but Google claimed it did “not have any means to investigate where and when the ID was created.”
Kabbabe’s lawyer, Mark Stanarevic from Matrix Legal, told ABC that he felt it to be “extremely unfair that people are allowed to anonymously attack honest, hardworking small businesses,” explaining that potential clients sometimes “just look at one or two bad reviews and decide to go somewhere else.”
He added that, in his opinion, “Google has a duty of care to Australian small businesses and businesses globally for allowing these reviews to go on,” insisting that the company should be “accountable for these actions.”
The world of online reviews is fraught with complications and can lead to all kinds of problems for businesses that receive negative ones. While many such reviews will, of course, be legitimate, the issue becomes more complex when the reviewer hides behind an obscure username and posts highly critical comments alongside numerous positive ones. Such behavior can cause the business owner to question whether it might be fake and perhaps posted by a rival business or disgruntled former employee.
Google tends to take a cautious approach regarding the matter, saying in the past that threats of defamation cases linked to online reviews could be used to suppress information that might help customers stay clear of badly operated services. We’ve reached out to Google for comment on the Australian case and will update when we hear back.
Consumer protection in the U.S.
In the U.S., the 2016 Consumer Review Fairness Act protects the consumers’ right to leave negative reviews online and elsewhere, so long as they are genuine. The law followed cases where businesses had threatened customers with fines or legal action if they left critical remarks about their experiences.
Dental surgeon Matthew Kabbabe is now waiting to see if he can finally discover the identity of the person that left what he considers to be an unfair review about his business, after which he plans to launch legal action.
“We want to know who the anonymous reviewer is,” Kabbabe’s lawyer said. “They’ve defamed my client. He’s lost thousands and thousands of dollars.”
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