Negative comment could result in defamation.
Be careful what you write on those online reviews. A Texas business owner actually tracked down who was behind a bogus username and is suing for defamation.
Gary Kulp with Austin Gutter King was so upset about one negative review; he actually sued Google in federal court and obtained the user's identity. He found it was written by someone affiliated with his competitor.
"We had some 50 reviews from satisfied customers and they had accused us of fabricating those and writing them our self," Kulp tells KTRH News.
He says the case goes beyond just his small business, adding many are victims of erroneous reviews that can hurt their bottom line.
"There should be a penalty paid for abusing the trust that these online review sites try to engender," Kulp says.
But what about privacy? Houston attorney Darryl Carter says not all online reviews can be kept confidential.
"Opinions are more protected under the First Amendment than are misstatement of facts," he says.
“Protecting the privacy and security of our users is incredibly important to us,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the Austin-Statesman. “Like all law-abiding companies, we respect valid legal process. Whenever we receive a request, we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying. When possible and legal to do so, we notify affected users about requests for user data that may affect them. And if we believe a request is overly broad, we will seek to narrow it.”
Carter admits Kulp's case is somewhat unusual, adding most businesses will shrug off negative comments due the cost of litigation.
"You have to find out who made the defamatory post, and locate that person," he says. "Then you have to make the business decision whether it's worth the time, money and effort."
Hear the podcast with Matt Patrick and Houston's Morning News as he talks with Kulp: