Consumers appear to like the option of being able to leave anonymous reviews. Many stores and restaurants also appear okay with the practice. The problem is that some businesses hate them — and they're litigating.
Most sites with reviews — including Yelp, Amazon, Google+, Travelocity and Angie's List — require reviewers to sign in with at least a working e-mail but allow anonymous reviews or the use of a pseudonym such as "A Google User."
A recent survey of 1,300 American consumers from Livefyre, the Social commenting platform, laid out the consumer viewpoint.
Nearly 40 percent of respondents who comment online have done so anonymously or with pseudonyms, and most of them only do so in certain circumstances. Nearly half (48 percent) do so because they feel they can be more open and honest than if they identified themselves. Another 34 percent cited other reasons, such as protecting their identities for personal security reasons, not wanting to reveal personal beliefs with employers, and preventing bias based on irrelevant data such as race or appearance. Only five percent say they commented anonymously in order to make mean-spirited remarks.
Critics of online reviews claim positive anonymous reviews are sometimes perceived as spam or false reviews. Worse, many believe anonymous negative reviews often come from competitors or other "bullies" making up or exaggerating tales to damage a business's reputation.
In a Wall Street Journal earlier this year profiling a business that was suing seven Yelp reviewers for defamation, Yelp admitted it receives about six subpoenas monthly, some of which seek the names of anonymous users. According to eater.com, over 1,700 French chefs earlier this week signed a anti-defamation petition to encourage review sites to "moderate their users and to ask for proof of their visits to our establishments."
For now, consumer review websites appear to be protected by the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes sites for libelous speech by their users.
Do anonymous reviews help or hurt the quality of reviews on consumer review websites?