Australia's Federal Court has given the go ahead for an Australian dentist to take Google to court over an anonymous negative review left on the search engine's site. The dentist wants Google to reveal the identity of the reviewer so he can sue them for defamation but the tech giant has declined to provide identifying information.
In the review left three months ago, the anonymous user, CBsm 23, alleges they had a "horrible experience" from a teeth whitening experience provided by Dr Matthew Kabbabe's dental clinic. In response, the dental clinic claims it has no record of the patient and urged them to get in contact.
"Unfortunately, we have no record or recollection of any patient experience fitting this review, nor can we verify anything about your identity from your username in our records," the dental clinic's response reads.
According to the court application, Kabbabe contacted Google in November 2019 and requested it took down the review, which Google declined to do. He then asked in February for Google to provide "identifying information" so he could pursue a defamation case against them.
Google again declined, according to court documents, stating "[w]e do not have any means to investigate where and when the ID was created."
The Honourable Justice Murphy said he believed Google likely had the means to access information about the user's identify, including subscriber information, their name, IP address and location metadata. It's understood if Google loses the case against Kabbabe, it will need to comply with the court's order to reveal the reviewer's identity or be found in contempt of the court.
In September 2017, the Supreme Court of New South Wales ordered Twitter to reveal the information of an anonymous person who had published a series of tweets across multiple accounts against an undisclosed company.
Over in the U.K., if a person believes a post is defamatory, they can issue a "notice of complaint" to the company hosting the comment, such as Google or Tripadvisor, according to Taylor Wessing Lawyers. The host company then has 48 hours to contact the anonymous poster to tell them of the removal request and the anonymous poster has the option to remove the post themselves, provide a company with their details to pass on to the complainant or decline both removal and contact details, usually resulting in the host website removing the offending content.
Gizmodo Australia contacted Google for comment but it declined. The date of the hearing between Kabbabe and Google is scheduled for March 20.
Google has updated its Maps policies to ban certain business reviews left by former employees. In a new section of the Google Maps "User Contributed Content Policy," Google now labels reviews "about a current or former employment experience" as a "conflict of interest." Originally, only current employees were barred under the policy. The new rules, quoted below, went into effect on December 14.