Optus has been ordered to hand over the details of a customer accused of defaming a Melbourne dentist through a Google review, which he says has had a profound impact on his teeth-whitening business.
The telco’s Australian office has been served with a subpoena to produce documents which could unmask the writer of the negative review, published on Google’s platform about six months ago.
The details will then be used to launch defamation proceedings.
Optus has until June 17 to respond to the subpoena.
The escalation in the hunt for the reviewer, known only as CBsm 23, comes after Matthew Kabbabe’s legal team successfully convinced the Federal Court to order Google to give up details which identified them as an Optus customer.
Dr Kabbabe’s lawyer, Mark Stanarevic from Matrix Legal, said it was a significant moment.
“We’ve opened up the veil, pierced it, in terms of people hiding behind Google reviews,” Mr Stanarevic said.
“It’s been demonstrated that we can do that now,” he said.
“It seems litigation is the only mechanism [where] people can seek these remedies.”
The review in question has since been removed from Dr Kabbabe’s Google page, leaving him with an average 4.9 star rating out of dozens of appraisals.
Optus has declined to comment.
Others seek to unmask Google reviewers
Dr Kabbabe is not the only business owner pursuing negative reviewers who are hiding behind the veil of anonymity
On Thursday, the Federal Court also ordered Google to hand over any identifying details of another negative reviewer accused of defaming Melbourne gangland lawyer Zarah Garde-Wilson.
Ms Garde-Wilson, who is also being represented by Matrix Legal, was allegedly defamed by a user called Mohamed Ahmed who criticised her law firm, Garde Wilson Criminal Lawyers.
Shortly after the review was posted, Ms Garde-Wilson responded directly to the writer on her Google page.
“My practice has never acted for a Mohamed Ahmed and we have forwarded this review to the Google investigations team to be removed,” she wrote publicly.
Mr Stanarevic said Ms Garde-Wilson suspected her anonymous reviewer was a competitor, which would open them up to be sued under Australian consumer law for misleading and deceptive conduct.
Similar legal action has been taken by Michael Kukulka, from Melbourne Gold Company, who suspects a “jealous competitor” is also behind a “targeted attack”.
“Upon pleading our case to Google and bringing these facts to Google’s attention, Google claimed that the two reviews did not breach their [terms of service],” he said.