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The Federal Court ordered Google to reveal the identity of someone who wrote a negative review. Here's what it could mean for the tech giant.

Sharon Masige
  • The Federal Court has ordered Google to reveal the identity of someone who wrote a negative review of a company online.
  • The Melbourne teeth whitening practice received a negative review from a user with the name "CBsm 23" which owner Matthew Kabbabe said affected his life and business.
  • UNSW Associate Professor Rob Nicholls told Business Insider Australia why he believes it won't present a big threat for Google.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

On Thursday, the Federal Court ordered Google to reveal the identity of someone who left a negative review about a teeth whitening practice, the ABC reported.

Melbourne dentist Matthew Kabbabe, who runs the teeth whitening service Asprodontics, called for Google to reveal the identity of a person who left a negative review of his business so he could take legal action.

Kabbabe told the ABC that the negative review from a user with the name "CBsm 23" – the only negative review at the time amid five star ratings – was put up on Google three months ago and affected both his life and business.

Kabbabe's lawyer Mark Stanarevic said in the report he believes Google "has a duty of care" to businesses for allowing these reviews.

"A bad review can shut down a business these days because most people live and breathe online," Stanarevic said.

Google was ordered to hand over information that identified "CBsm 23", including phone numbers, names, location metadata and IP addresses.

This may require companies to think harder about their business practices around reviews

Rob Nicholls Associate Professor at the UNSW Business School told Business Insider Australia, "The dentist had no way of being able to serve court papers on that person directly because they were shielded by Google. So the court said to Google, you have to get rid of that shield so that the normal process can continue."

At the same time, the dentist claimed the reviewer hadn't actually been to the business. "If that reviewer had been to their practice, they wouldn't need to have called on Google because they'd actually have their names and addresses," Nicholls added.

Nicholls believes in practice it's "not such a big threat" for companies like Google because getting a court to agree that the action of the reviewer has caused such harm as to give rise to a case for defamation is "not likely to happen often".

What it does mean, Nicholls said, is that Google and other companies might have to think much harder about their business practices in relation to reviews.

"Potentially Google and others might have to think a bit harder about what reviews they allow to be published if they can see that on their face they look as if they're defamatory," he said. But that wouldn't stop a bad review, he added.

While Nicholls thinks Google will have to identify the reviewer in this case, he said if he was advising Google he would opt to appeal the decision so as not to give out the information. That way Google wouldn't need to change its business model if it was successful.

"Otherwise Google and all publishers of reviews will have to think about how do they manage potentially defamatory reviews," Nicholls said.

He explained that it could add an extra business process step for these companies "under which an AI system looks to see if a review is essentially defamatory and won't publish that immediately until it's been reviewed or simply doesn't publish it."

Will this impact privacy?

When asked whether this situation has any implications on privacy, Nicholls didn't think so, especially with companies like Google and Facebook already knowing who people are.

"The reality is, Google knows the name of the reviewer," he said. "In effect, from an individual's perspective, you've given up... some of the privacy by agreeing to Google and Facebook's standard of submission."

Google told Business Insider in an email that it takes court orders seriously but does not comment on ongoing legal matters.

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