An Australian court has ordered Google to reveal the identity of the personal who left an anonymous negative review of a Melbourne dentist.
Teeth whitening specialist Dr Matthew Kabbabe was seeking the court order so he could then sue the user, who told others to “STAY AWAY” from his practice, for defamation.
The user, who posted under the name CBsm 23, labelled a procedure performed by Dr Kabbabe as “extremely awkward and uncomfortable” and a “complete waste of time”.
The Federal Court has ordered that Google must provide any information it has on the user, including names, phone numbers, location metadata and IP addresses that are linked to it, The Guardian reported.
Dr Kabbabe had previously approached Google in November asking for the negative review to be taken down, but the tech giant refused.
Earlier this month, he then asked for information on the user behind the anonymous review.
Google declined to do so, saying that it did “not have any means to investigate where and when the ID was created”.
But Justice Bernard Murphy said that Google was “likely to have or have had control of a document or thing that would help ascertain that description of the prospective respondent”, and under international law Dr Kabbabe was able to seek documents from overseas parties to help with his defamation case.
Google has long rejected attempts to remove negative reviews and has argued that defamation cases can suppress important information that would help customers avoid bad businesses and services.
It has typically only revealed a negative reviewer through a court order.
Dr Kabbabe’s lawyer said it was a “groundbreaking” decision for small businesses, and that Google has a duty of care when users are posting potentially defamatory reviews.
“If you’re out there trying to hide behind anonymity, even via VPN, I think the court system’s catching up now and there are ways and means of obtaining that information,” Mark Stanarevic said.
The decision follows the South Australian Supreme Court last week awarding $750,000 in damages to an Adelaide barrister over another negative online review.
A user reviewed Gordon Cheng’s law firm in 2018, claiming he gave “false and misleading advice”.
Cheng argued the reviewer had never been a client, and in April last year Google eventually removed the review.
But Cheng claimed to have lost 80 per cent of his business, and had been later diagnosed with depression.
Google told the court the review had been viewed 800 times per month when it was online.
The court awarded Cheng $550,000 for lost income and goodwill, $100,000 for harm suffered and $100,000 for aggravated damages.
The lawyer argued that there needs to be changes to the law to prevent similar events happening in the future.
“Legislation should be changed to stop such things happening in the future otherwise no matter how hard you work it can easily be destroyed by social media in a couple of months or a couple of days,” he said.
An Australian court ruled in 2018 that a Melbourne man was able to sue Google itself for defamation over how he was presented in the Google Image search results.
The man claimed that how the pictures were presented could falsely show that he was “somehow associated with the Melbourne criminal underworld”.
He had planned to head to the Victorian courts to sue Google for defamation over the matter, with the tech giant labelling his concerns “irrational”.