Glassdoor, the job posting website that allows visitors to post reviews about employers, has just been ordered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal to hand over the names of some anonymous reviewers.
Before you get too excited at the prospect of finally finding out which of your former admins talked trash about you, this case is a bit more compelling than the typical Yelp defamation matter. The federal government is seeking the names of former employees that left reviews implicating a business that was engaging in governmental fraud.
Confidence Through Confidentiality
One of the hallmarks of online reviews is anonymity. It can give a single voice quite a bit of power, though an anonymous poster's credibility can easily be called into question.
However, the confidence and candor brought about by internet anonymity can undoubtedly produce benefits for the public. Particularly for a site like Glassdoor, it is unlikely the site would receive as many employer reviews if the reviews weren't anonymous, or the site just turned over the names of reviewers without a court battle.
An Exception Worth Fighting For?
While Glassdoor has expressed disappointment at the Ninth Circuit ruling, there has been no indication if another appeal will be filed, either for rehearing en banc, or to SCOTUS.
Some commentators posit that this case could set a dangerous precedent. However, it would seem that turning over an anonymous reviewer's name, where that reviewer has agreed to allow Glassdoor to disclose their name if required by law, to governmental investigators trying to help stamp out corruption wouldn't necessarily be the worst precedent that could be set, so long as it is that narrowly tailored.
Notably though, the precedent that was set, didn't really change much. The court followed already existing precedent and held that Glassdoor must divulge the names absent any evidence of bad faith on the part of the government investigators.