Update: Yelp emailed the International Business Times with the following statement:
The Virginia Court of Appeals relied on the speculation of a business owner, unsupported by real evidence, that several users might not be actual customers, and based on this ordered Yelp to release information about those users. No court has determined that these reviews are "fake", and tellingly the business owner has never disputed the accuracy of the contents of the reviews (which the court also noted).
Yelp also disagreed with a BBC report and academic study that 25 percent of its reviews were fake. Yelp said that 25 percent of reviews are not recommended, but that doesn't mean they are fake.
A Virginia Court of Appeals has ruled that Yelp Inc. (NYSE:YELP) must identify users who leave fake negative reviews.
Joe Hadeed claimed that seven users left bad reviews of his carpet-cleaning business without ever actually being customers. Hadeed demanded that Yelp reveal the names of the anonymous posters, and turned to lawyers when the San Francisco-based company refused.
A judge ruled that a Yelp review is entitled protection under the First Amendment and that a person doesn’t need to be identified just because someone disagrees with a bad review. However, if the customer was not an actual customer, then the review is a “false statement” rather than an opinion and the reviewer is not entitled to anonymity.
Yelp told BBC news that it was disappointed with the decision and argued that it would “make it more difficult for the marketplace of ideas to get valuable information about companies,” said Yelp’s lawyer.
A spokesperson for Yelp said that the decision allows businesses to seek out personal details of users to try and silence online critics.
Yelp forbids fake reviews in its content guidelines, but admitted that about 25 percent of its 47 million reviews are fake.