A Federal Court judge has given the go ahead for a Gold Coast accountant to sue Google over ‘fake’ reviews posted anonymously.
Kyran Seeto, who runs Gold Coast-based firm Max Accountants, is taking legal action to make Google remove a short and anonymous critical review left about his company on Google, along with two other one-star reviews, ABC News reported.
Seeto said that none of the reviewers are actual clients of his accounting firm, and that Google has a responsibility for what is posted on its platform by anonymous users.
At a recent Federal Court hearing Justice David O’Callaghan said the court could and should hear the case, and that Seeto has a “prima facie case”.
Seeto said that a negative Google review can cripple a company, and Google should be held to account as a publisher for what is published on its platform.
“I’m trying to build a business, but with literally a keystroke they can destroy you,” Seeto said. “It’s not fair.”
Accountant Kyran Seeto is taking his fight against Google to the Federal Court. Image: Supplied
An anonymous user named “Emma Anderson” left a short review of Max Accountants earlier this year which appears when someone searches the firm.
“Don’t bother going to this one,” the review said. “Unless you want your concerns and enquiries to be met with hostility. My favourite is when the account [sic] said to me, ‘that’s a joke, I don’t believe that, that’s a joke’. They need training in customer service.
“Max Accountants can take up to 20 days to even lodge your tax, they don’t tell you that. Wouldn’t bother, my first time using them and I know I’ll be going back to my old accountant.”
Two further reviews were left at a similar time, both giving Max Accountants one-star with no further information provided. These were made by users named “Sharmane Harris” and “Brett Wiliams”.
None of the users in questions have posted reviews of any other businesses, and do not have any personal identifying information on their account.
Seeto said he had checked the company database and could find no record of these people ever being clients.
“I’ve asked staff: ‘did it happen?’ I’m in at the office every day, I sit next to my receptionist and my staff – why would we say something like that?” he said.
Seeto believes Google has too much power over small businesses.
“It has a significant impact,” he said. “We advertise on Google. When clients come in we ask them where they’ve come from...more than half have come from Google.
“As a consequence of putting these [low-star ratings] on, they turn away or they’re not sure.”
There have been a number of recent legal challenges made involving Google reviews, some trying to force the tech giant to reveal the identity of anonymous reviewers, others looking to sue Google directly for the negative reviews.
Earlier this year an Australian court ordered Google to reveal the identity of the person who posted an anonymous negative review of Melbourne-based dentist Dr Matthew Kabbabe. The user told others to “STAY AWAY” from the practice, with Kabbabe looking to sue them for defamation once Google has identified them.
In February this year Adelaide-based lawyer Gordon Cheng won a $750,000 pay-out against a woman who posted a trio of negative Google reviews about his business, despite never being a client.
And in April, Google was ordered to hand over $40,000 to a Melbourne lawyer after it was ruled that searches on Google images brought up the lawyer’s name alongside Victorian gangland figures, equating to defamation.