Ordering Glassdoor to reveal employee identities ‘could render website unviable’

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A US court order requiring the Glassdoor website to release the identities of those who wrote negative reviews about New Zealand-based toymaker Zuru could seriously harm the website and even render the business model of the unviable business, said a marketing expert.

University of Auckland Business School marketing director Bodo Lang said Glassdoor’s offer was information from current and former employees, and many would only provide reviews if they thought their anonymity would be protected.

“If there’s no notice, they have nothing to do, so I think it would be a blow,” he said.

Lang said the likelihood of Glassdoor being forced to reveal the identities of reviewers from other companies would depend on the jurisdiction and the laws of the country under which the lawsuits took place.

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Bodo Lang says review websites rarely give representative satisfaction ratings because people are more likely to leave a review when they have a very good or very bad experience.

Provided

Bodo Lang says review websites rarely give representative satisfaction ratings because people are more likely to leave a review when they have a very good or very bad experience.

A Glassdoor spokesperson downplayed the implications of the case, saying: “The court’s decision is a rare exception under New Zealand law and its implications are limited to reviews involving an employer acting against multiple former employees based in New Zealand.

“We will continue to fight to protect the anonymous free speech rights of our users,” the spokesperson said.

They said that to date, Glassdoor has succeeded in protecting user anonymity in more than 100 cases filed against users.

“Of the 2.2 million companies that have been rated and reviewed on Glassdoor, we only get involved in a small handful of legal battles with employers, and we almost always win,” the spokesperson said. .

Multinational toy company Zuru launched the legal challenge after six scathing criticisms of it as an employer.

A spokesperson for Zuru said it could not comment on specific issues relating to ongoing litigation, but issued a statement calling the reviews “false and fraudulent”.

The statement said hosting the reviews was against Glassdoor’s policies.

Anna Mowbray leads Zuru alongside siblings Mat and Nick Mowbray.

PROVIDED

Anna Mowbray leads Zuru alongside siblings Mat and Nick Mowbray.

“We worked directly with Glassdoor to resolve the issue, but it wasn’t until we took legal action that Glassdoor removed the fake reviews.”

The Glassdoor spokesperson argued that contrary to Zuru’s claims, the unflattering work experience reviews were written by “several former Zuru employees.”

The case notes reference New Zealand law in the decision to grant Zuru’s subpoena for the examiners’ names.

Nikki Chamberlain is a lecturer at the University of Auckland Law School and said the US court applied US law because the issue before it was whether a subpoena should be enforced by Glassdoor.

“US law provides that a court may compel the discovery of information about a US-based company in a foreign proceeding. So in that regard, US law was applied,” she said.

The reason New Zealand law came into play was that the defamation claim came from a New Zealand company against a New Zealand-based commentator(s), and the US court wanted to check whether the legal defamation claim in New Zealand was legitimate.

The subpoena was filed in the United States because Glassdoor is headquartered in California.

In New Zealand, the right to express an opinion is weighed against the other party’s right to protect its reputation, unlike in the United States, where First Amendment rights are more paramount.

Nikki Chamberlain says Kiwis shouldn't think they're covered by the general free speech rule when posting opinions online.

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Nikki Chamberlain says Kiwis shouldn’t think they’re covered by the general free speech rule when posting opinions online.

“New Zealand law basically says you can express your opinion in relation to someone or, in this situation, a company. However, that opinion must be sincere, and unfortunately you cannot tell whether an opinion is sincere unless you know the identity of the person who made the statement,” Chamberlain said.

The implications of Zuru’s lawsuit were jurisdiction-specific, with the outcome of similar lawsuits potentially depending on where the employer and employees were based and the country’s relevant laws, she said.

Kiwis need to be careful leaving reviews online

Chamberlain said workers should ensure that any reviews they leave online are accurate and that any opinions expressed are sincere, even if they believe they will remain anonymous.

“That anonymity could be threatened if a person or entity seeks a discovery order based on a defamation claim,” she said.

Lang said companies have always wanted to attract talent and there was a real opportunity for anti-competitive behavior on sites like Glassdoor if competitors posted fake reviews about each other.

Zuru started in a shed on a Waikato farm in 2004 and has grown to become the sixth largest toymaker in the world.


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