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]