Australian judge orders Google to reveal the identity of anonymous negative reviewer

Polycount

TS Evangelist
Staff member

However, opting to do so might just land you in hot water in some circumstances, as one anonymous Google user is about to learn. A dentist based out of Melbourne, Australia, has managed to convince a federal judge to order Google to "unmask" the individual behind a negative review left on his business' Google page.

The dentist, Matthew Kabbabe, claims the three-month-old review in question is the only negative one his business has received to date. "I believe it is extremely unfair that people are allowed to anonymously attack honest, hardworking small businesses," Kabbabe said in a statement to ABC.

The anonymous reviewer (who goes by the username "CBsm 23") could have information like his IP address, phone number, and full name divulged if Google complies with the judge's order.

Kabbabe, and his lawyer Mark Stanarevic, feel the negative review constitutes defamation. Stanarevic says his client has lost "thousands" of dollars in business due to the criticism.

For our part, we were unable to find CBsm 23's review anywhere on Dr. Kabbabe's "Asprodontics" Google page. There are 28 reviews in total, and all of them give Asprodontics a full five-star rating (though, somehow, the practice has a 4.9/5 overall score). It's possible that the individual pulled the review in response to this legal action, but we cannot say for sure.

Either way, it's somewhat difficult to believe that a single negative review (out of at least 29) would be enough to negatively impact any business -- especially an otherwise well-respected dentistry practice -- to a meaningful degree. With that said, we're not business or legal experts, so we'll leave all final judgement to the courts.

Image credit: Shutterstock (2).

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cliffordcooley

TS Redneck
I'm one that feels no one should be able to claim anything. Unless they are willing to stand behind what they say. Defamation should only have a chance if someone is standing behind it. Go ahead Google, let it be known who made the claim. Lets find out if they stand firmly with what they said, and can prove the statement to be true.
 

Polycount

TS Evangelist
Staff member
I'm one that feels no one should be able to claim anything. Unless they are willing to stand behind what they say. Defamation should only have a chance if someone is standing behind it. Go ahead Google, let it be known who made the claim. Lets find out if they stand firmly with what they said, and can prove the statement to be true.
I can respect that sentiment, but I do feel reviews should have some sort of protection.

You run the risk of discouraging people from sharing their opinions, even if they're accurate (but perhaps difficult to back up), if everyone is forced to divulge their identity when leaving said opinion on a page.

Just something to think about. Not sure how I feel overall.
 

brucek

TS Guru
The only justification I could see for this is if the posted review is maliciously fictitious (I.e., if it was from a competing dentist who had never even been seen by the first dentist, and all complaints in the review were made up out of nothing.)

Otherwise I don't think we should have courts nitpicking over casual speech (including brief posts to social networks). If we start, where does it end? If I post "The Yankees played terribly last night" can the team owner sue me if he feels they merely played badly?
 

Evernessince

地獄らしい人間動物園
This is a very tricky subject. If you start making reviewers liable for damage equal to whatever corporate lawyers want to cook up, chances are people won't post negative reviews anymore. I can guarantee you many companies would start sending out letters asking for a "small payment" or risk getting sued. Soon after which, negative reviews would slowly disappear from the internet. Most people don't want to risk going to court and only god knows how they'll try to frame damages but I'm sure it will be an outrageous number.

America doesn't need 100,000 more frivolous lawsuits.

I get what you are saying. It is a slippery slope. But when being called out. If one is not willing to stand behind the comment, it should be pulled. Both sides have equal chances of backfiring from such confrontations. With the clinic having the most to loose.
The thing is, both sides are not equal. Most people have 0 experience in court nor do they have the money to simply stop working and go to court because they posted a review on the internet. A whopping 78% of Americans live Paycheck to Paycheck. You are putting up people who can't take off work, have zero legal experience, and have zero money to support themselves against corporate lawyers who's job is to prosecute cases like this. This is the problem with America, money begets power and power begets money. Even if you did win, you'd still have to pay your own attorney fees and you'd still have to make up for all the lost days of work.

It's a loose loose for everyone but big business. Now I'm up for ways for cleaning up misleading or false reviews but the solution isn't to open up pandora's box.
 

brucek

TS Guru
To make it more tricky, what if the complainer is the government? Could Trump for example demand that Google search all of gmail and all its web crawls and provide him with names and addresses of anyone who has ever said anything negative about him or his government?

Would this extend to relationships? If a woman posts on Facebook that her husband battered her and she has gone to a shelter, could that husband sue Facebook for her current location (because he claims he's being slandered?)

I do think there is a place for slander and libel suits, but I think that place should start with formal communications where there is an expectation of considered speech by all parties (I.e., an article in the New York Times.) I think there are many other types of speech that are more informal, social, and recreational -- I.e., a night out at the bar -- and the last thing we need is the government reviewing each word to make sure it is 100% indisputable by any other party.
 

Polycount

TS Evangelist
Staff member
By the way, working on finding out what the original review actually said. It was pulled but I'm going to check archives, as well as other sites to see if anyone else managed to find it.
 

Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
Reviews are given with the understanding they will remain anonymous and it should not be changed. Like the whistle blower laws, it guarantee's a persons right to speak freely and openly. Should the recipient disagree, they are free to comment back and offer compensation, discussion, or arbitration but to allow a business to discourage free speech is simple tyranny and nothing less. Since the Australian Constitution does not have these provisions, any complainant should be aware of the risks they take and if this dentist really were as good as he seems to say, one bad reference won't crush his business. And what does he plan to do about the complaints that are word of mouth? Written into his local newspaper or protested by carrying a sign in front of his office.

If this doctor can't stand some criticism, maybe he needs to consider a new profession. Embalmer might be right for him since there are far fewer complaints .....
 

Hellbishop

TS Enthusiast
Good grief Charlie Brown! This "professional" dentist gets one bad review out of a bunch of positive ones and he catches a chicken breast attack. Talk about a skin made of brittle paper. Reminds me of some of the prima donnas on YouTube who get all the praise but go all drama queen by focusing on the complainers.

I can only imagine what the other aspects of his life are like. Hmm I wonder if he has a god complex

Then again maybe he had one very troublesome petty vindictive patient and he is wondering is this the same annoying person who is trying to cause him needless trouble with a negative review and being a passive aggressive bully hiding behind the curtain of anonymity that is the internet :)
 
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Nobina

TS Evangelist
I think the site on which the review was on should judge on whether it should be removed or not, Google in this case. If you involve the government, as said above, people will be less inclined to review because of the possible lawsuit.

Also, his review is his opinion which he should be entitled to.
 
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kimo1

TS Rookie
I found the screenshot, with reply from the owner:
https://edge.alluremedia.com.au/uploads/businessinsider/2020/02/Negative-review.jpg
How do you identify this review as making you lose something you never had first place? I would actually say, this review is plausible: I've seen lots of these kind of reviews in Amazon product reviews.

Let review portals become more strict, then we know for sure who's the guilty one here. But that won't work. With modern court system being thoroughly corrupt, the side which has the most money always wins, no matter the truth. Also media can be paid to defame just anyone. And the more money is involved, the more likely similar minded people will come together to fight, for money. Disgusting!
You can write your honest review, and the owner can paste their official response. But we will never know the truth, if the client existed, who was the client, if the client did contact them, if the customer care wasn't garbage, and by looking at the fact that teeth are a luxury/dentists get paid way too much, do any of the clients even have any chance to protect themselves against malpractice? Except ofc clients who earn more $$$ than dentists. AND let's not forget the fact that positive reviews can also be purchased.
Purchasing positive reviews has been a thing for a long time. Now portals being paid to delete and/or suppress negative reviews is also becoming very popular. Trust into product and service quality may one day disappear, and expectation will fall down to of overpriced garbage. You go to a shop, but the money in your hands is worth more than most of the shop. What a horrible life in human civilization. May the evillest human win.
 
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treetops

TS Evangelist
The owner of a business can reply to a bad google review. It will be seen with the review. What you can't point out a problem at your apartment complex without the staff knowing who you are? Or a doctor without medical info in a review being tied to you?

If people don't understand that reviewers are capable of lying.... Take responsibility.... Warning coffee is hot.
 
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hahahanoobs

TS Evangelist
All we can do is speculate since we haven't seen the review. Maybe a little early to post this article without it.
 

Ludak021

TS Enthusiast
I get what you are saying. It is a slippery slope. But when being called out. If one is not willing to stand behind the comment, it should be pulled. Both sides have equal chances of backfiring from such confrontations. With the clinic having the most to loose.
Why have a google place in the first place then? If you can't stand the critic, trolls, internet in general, stay away from it. Otherwise you will end up with Brie Larson like situation.

On the other hand, it's Australia.
 
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Burty117

TechSpot Chancellor
Thanks for the screenshot. To me, that looks like a legit concern but plausibly for a different dentist, I've seen that happen here in the UK with car garages that are similar names or close together, people leave negative reviews on the wrong company!

I also don't think suing was the way forward here, just leaving their reply was enough, the dentist clearly has issues.
 

Jeff Re

TS Maniac
Thanks for the screenshot. To me, that looks like a legit concern but plausibly for a different dentist, I've seen that happen here in the UK with car garages that are similar names or close together, people leave negative reviews on the wrong company!
When I searched google maps this was the only business with anything close to this name that came up. Interestingly, I wasn't even allowed to look at the reviews.
 

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