Judge makes a game-changing decision
A federal judge ruled that Ubervita, a nutritional supplement company, may issue subpoenas to Amazon.com (and any subsidieries) and Craiglist (and any subsideries) in order to discover the identities of those behind a campaign “of dirty tricks against Ubervita in a wrongful effort to put Ubervita at a competitiive disadvantage in the marketplace,” according to this PDF and site.
According to the lawsuit, anonymous commenters had placed fraudulent orders “to disrupt Ubervita’s inventory and offer cash for favorable reviews;” thereby leading Amazon to take action against them, leading to loss of sales for the business. Ubervita has lodged four main complaints against users:
(1) fake bulk orders: which manipulated the Amazon system into showing those products as “sold out;” (2) fake counterfeiting: alleged users impersonated Ubervita by using fake email addresses, appearing to come from Ubervita alleging Ubervita was selling counterfeit product and thereby forcing Amazon to respond by suspending the sale of genuine Ubervita items; (3) offering to pay for fake reviews: on Craigslists, users utilized Ubervita’s name and falsely offered to pay for positive reviews on Amazon, lending questionable credibility to the company; (4) fake Reviews on Amazon: alleged user posted false reviews claiming Ubervita’s products were a scam or fake.
Quite the slippery slope
These seem like legitimate reasons at first, and perhaps they are, but the possibility of this becoming a “slippery slope” makes me weary. Judge Marsha Pechman ruled Ubervita could subpoena the companies to release information about users.
This includes the release of the following information: names, addresses, phone numbers, email addressses, IP addresses, Web hosts, credit card information, bank account information, and any other identifying information. The last three seem to be the beginning of a problem, in my opinion. Does this set a precedent for any company to sue you personally if you leave a negative review on their product page? [The SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) comes to mind]
Does this open up the floodgate for individual companies to gain access to your personal information, or is this standard operating procedure on any “identity subpoena?” And, I am also curious as to why the judge did not turn this case over to a third-party mediator in an effort to determine whether or not the alleged claims were indeed false, or if the reviewers were truly dissatisfied customers, before releasing their personal information.
Could this make consumers less likely to leave a review for a product, or will it just be brushed off as a fleeting instance? What do you think?