Court Allows Company To Ask Amazon To Identify Negative Reviewers

While courts have held that companies have to prove an online review is libelous before it can be forcibly deleted, there is still a question about whether anonymous review-writers have a right to remain unnamed. A federal judge in Washington state recently decided that one company can request that Amazon provide information about users who left questionable reviews about the plaintiff’s products.

Ubervita, a maker of dietary supplements, has been trying to get the court to force Amazon to reveal the identities of users who posted what the company alleges are fake, deliberately malicious reviews on the site.

In its complaint [PDF] against 10 “John Doe” defendants, Ubervita alleges that these Amazon users have been running a “campaign of dirty tricks” against the supplement company, “in a wrongful effort to put Ubervita at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.”

The company claims these defendants orchestrated their negative reviews to give the false impression of a “growing body of unsatisfied customers.”

The defendants allegedly posed as Ubervita employees on CraigsList, posting ads that offered to pay for positive Amazon reviews of Ubervita products. Then, according to the company, the defendants would write negative reviews on Amazon that pointed to the CraigsList postings as evidence that the company was shady.

Ubervita isn’t just accusing these unnamed defendants of writing nasty reviews. The complaint alleges a wide array of trolling and disruptive behavior.

The company accuses these users of placing fake, mammoth bulk orders with the goal of making it appear like Ubervita products were out of stock. The complaint states that defendants first placed orders of 999 units — the most allowed at the time — and when Amazon subsequently changed that limit, the defendants used trial and error to figure out what the new maximum order was.

According to the complaint, the defendants also posed as Ubervita employees to write Amazon to state that Ubervita was selling counterfeit products. Each of these four instances resulted in Amazon temporarily suspending the sale of Ubervita items.

Last week, the judge in this case granted Ubervita’s request to allow it to serve subpoenas on Amazon and CraigsList in order to “learn the John Doe defendants’ identities, including their names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, IP addresses, Web hosts, credit card information, bank account information, and any other identifying information.”

Judge orders unmasking of Amazon.com “negative” reviewers [Ars Technica]

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  1. StevenB says:

    I’m curious as to how the company is proving that these people are doing that. To me, from what I can read here. It seems as though the company “believes” and “thinks” this is what is happening to them and some how got a judge to go with it anyway.

    The information such as credit card information is a little odd if not alarming. Why would this be required when talking about reviews?

    • MathManv2point0 says:

      Yeah, I’m with you. I could see needing name and address for the purpose of issuing a subpoena but credit card and bank account information?!?!?! How the hell is getting that information justified at this stage for “believes” and “thinks”?

      • Xenotaku says:

        The bank and credit card info is likely limited to transaction listings, which would then be blacked out other than the relevant portions. They’ve accused these people of putting in purchases to make the product look sold out, so they need the transaction lists to prove that the orders were made.

        • Snarkapus says:

          That doesn’t pass the giggle test. Joe Blow would buy 999 pieces of product at $40 each just to harass a company?

          Right….

  2. Instegone says:

    I just looked up that company on Amazon and I see mostly 5 star reviews. Are they concerned cause they have a 98% rating and want higher? Shesh

    • Snarkapus says:

      If you look closely, most of them seem to be shills. The only products they’ve ever reviewed are that company’s. That’s not the normal Amazon reviewer pattern.

  3. webalias says:

    It looks to me like Amazon is dropping the ball here. If indeed Amazon is publishing reviews that don’t meet its own standards, Amazon should do what it can to address that. But even so, for Amazon to disclose the real names and other data from reviewers who believed such information would be private sets a bad precedent. I get it: Amazon has to obey a court order. But Amazon also has a policy that companies whose products it carries cannot harass its reviewers (earlier this year Amazon revoked the selling license of Mediabridge as soon as that company sued a customer for a negative Amazon review). Amazon should have said to Ubervita: OK, you’ll get the names as required by the subpoena. But your products will never be sold on Amazon again, because we value our reputation and the trust of our customers more than we do you guys. See ya.