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A New York lawyer has gone to court to unmask an anonymous person who on Google gave him a one-star review that solely said “it was horrible.”
The 8-month-old Google review, searchable under Manhattan commercial litigator Donald J.
Tobias’ name, was written under the handle “Mia Arce.” The lawyer wants to know the identity of the reviewer, perhaps so that person can be sued.
Here’s what Tobias is demanding that a New York state judge order Google to divulge:
Specifically, the suit (PDF) demands that the court order Google to disclose “all information in its possession that reflects the identity of the person that posted the purported ‘Review.'”
That includes “said person’s name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, Google account number, date of opening and closing of any account, method of payment and billing logs, Internet Protocol (IP address, Media Access Control (MAC) and any other information that pertains to the status of that person’s account and overall identity.”
The suit goes on to explain why the lawyer, who said he doesn’t know anybody named “Mia Arce,” thinks the review is “defamatory”:
The posting itself is, moreover, highly defamatory since the assertion that ‘it was horrible” (with absolutely no revelation of what the “it” was or might be) is not a mere statement of opinion but is instead one that on its face implies that it is based upon facts that justify the stated opinion, but which facts are left wholly unknown to those reading or hearing such an opinion.
As such it is, under the axiomatic case law doctrine that is to be set forth in this Petition and in the accompanying papers, a plainly actionable “mixed opinion” that, additionally, serves to disparage a person in his profession, rendering it libelous per se.
The lawyer suspects that whoever wrote the review might have been commenting about a Cornell University professor who has the same name and who reportedly jumped in front of a subway train and died.
In a letter to Google’s legal department asking for the review to be removed, Tobias said (PDF), “I am an innocent victim of a purported but highly damaging ‘review’ that was posted, in all probability by mistake, by someone that I do not know and with whom I have had no relationship of any kind.”
Google declined to remove the review.
The attorney, who did not immediately respond to Ars for comment, told The Wall Street Journal that he intends to “get to the bottom of this.”
“You can’t go around defaming people,” he said.
Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor behind the Volokh Conspiracy blog, said the review was an opinion “so devoid of fact” that he doesn’t think it is libelous.
“In principle, libel plaintiffs can indeed use subpoenas to try to uncover the identity of whoever libeled them, so they can then sue the right person.
But most courts require a showing that there is a potentially viable libel case, and I doubt such a showing can be made here,” Volokh said.