When it comes to the digital distribtion of video games, there are many animals in the ecosystem but only one real eight-hundred-pound gorilla. That, of course, is Steam, Valve's platform for a digital games marketplace. The fact that some insane percentage of online game purchases go through Steam is great news for Valve, of course, but it comes with challenges as well. There's a balancing act Steam must do, as it must ingratiate itself to both buyers of games and those who develop the games.
One recent attempt to, according to Valve, make Steam game reviews more useful to the gaming community has developers concerned, however. And, even if we take Steam's claims to its reasoning for the change, the concern by game developers is entirely understandable and warranted. This whole thing has to do with how Steam is prioritizing game reviews that come from reviewers who bought the game directly from Steam, as opposed to applying download keys acquired elsewhere.
Valve have again shaken up how the Steam store presents player reviews, this time adding new filtering options which, by default, don’t include reviews from people who got the game by activating a Steam key rather than buying direct from Steam. Valve say this is to prevent score inflation from devs throwing out free keys in exchange for reviews. That’s a noble goal, but the change also means discounting reviews from players who backed Kickstarters or bought the game direct from devs – groups likely to have genuine strong opinions – not to mention from other stores like Humble and Itch. Some devs are not best pleased.
Now, Valve's claim that there is a problem with reviews that come from these other sources isn't completely wrong. Particularly in talking about reviews of games bought straight from a developer. Some in the games industry have brought this kind of skepticism on themselves by engaging in practices such as requiring positive game reviews from YouTubers to get access to the game, or having employees within a developer astroturf game reviews themselves. It's not particularly far-fetched to think that there are game developers out there handing out Steam keys to their games in exchange for positive reviews, whereas a purchase directly from Steam doesn't carry that kind of suspicion.
But the problem with Steam's plan to tackle all of this is that the way gamers buy games is changing. Sources like Kickstarter and HumbleBundle can make up significant portions of a game's marketplace, and those buying through those sources are likely to have strong opinions on the games they backed. That's exactly the kind of review you want on a game's Steam page, but the new filters default to ignoring them.
The new Steam Review policy will hurt. As a kickstarter dev, your most passionate fans are now silenced.
And, of course, some are already claiming that Valve has instituted all of this in order to encourage more people to buy games directly from Steam if they ever want their reviews to be noticed. Or for more developers to push people to buy from Steam for the same reason. I doubt that's the case, actually, because a game that shows fewer reviews utlimately looks less popular and may turn off potential buyers, which would be the opposite of what Steam wants. Still, this look like another case of Valve taking a heavy-handed approach where more deft touch is required.
from the yet-another-abuse-of-the-legal-system dept
Earlier this year, complaint site Pissed Consumer noticed a disturbing new trend in the dark art of reputation management: unnamed rep management firms were using a couple of lawyers to run bogus defamation lawsuits through a local court to obtain court orders demanding the removal of "defamatory" reviews.
What was unusual wasn't the tactic itself. Plenty of bogus defamation lawsuits have been filed over negative reviews. It's that these lawsuits were resolved so quickly. Within a few weeks of the initial filing, the lawsuit would be over. Each lawsuit improbably skipped the discovery process necessary to uncover anonymous reviewers and proceeded straight to judgment with a (bogus) confessional statement from each "reviewer" handed in by the "defamed" entity's lawyer for the judge's approval. Once these were rubber stamped by inattentive judges, the lawyers served Google with court orders to delist the URLs.
To date, no one has uncovered the reputation management firm behind the bogus lawsuits. In each case, the companies purporting to be represented by these lawyers were shells -- some registered as businesses on the same day their lawsuits were filed.
It's one thing to do this sort of thing from behind the veil of quasi-anonymity afforded by the use of shell companies. It's quite another to file a bogus lawsuit with an apparently forged signature (of the supposed defamer) under your own name. But that's exactly what appears to have happened, as detailed in this post by Public Citizen's Paul Alan Levy.
In addition to posting his reviews of Mitul Patel on Yelp, [Matthew] Chan posted on RateMDs, kudzu.com and Healthgrades.com about his unsatisfactory experiences with Dr. Patel. Chan’s is but one of a number of negative reviews directed at Patel on these various sites, but Patel apparently took particular umbrage at this one: he filed a pro se libel action claiming, in highly conclusory terms, that the reviews were false and defamatory.
It doesn't get much more conclusory than this filing [PDF], which runs only three pages -- with one page containing nothing more than a date and a signature. The complaint lists the URLs of Chan's reviews, says they're defamatory... and that's basically it. No part of the reviews are quoted as evidence of defamation. The filing simply declares every review defamatory and demands an injunction. But that's the kind of detail you can omit when you know you're never going to have to confront the accused in court.
[I]nstead of suing Chan in Georgia, Patel filed in the circuit court for the city of Baltimore, Maryland, a court that would ordinarily have no personal jurisdiction over a Georgia consumer sued for criticizing a Georgia dentist. Patel justified suing there by identifying “Mathew Chan” as the defendant – note that the spelling of the given name is slightly different – and alleging that this Mathew Chan “maintains a primary residence located in Baltimore, Maryland.”
There's a problem with both the defendant named and the primary address. The name is misspelled, perhaps deliberately so. The address listed in the complaint is completely bogus.
The fact that the both the online docket for the case, and the “consent motion for injunction and final judgment” bearing a signature for “Mathew Chan,” list his address as 400 East Pratt St. in Baltimore implies to me that this is a case of deliberate fraud, because so far as I have been able to determine, 400 East Pratt Street is a downtown building that contains only offices, retail establishments and restaurants, but no residences.
Despite these deficiencies, the lawsuit made it past a judge because it contained a supposed mea culpa from "Mathew Chan" of "400 East Pratt Street" admitting to the defamatory postings. This motion with the bogus signature and admission was approved by judge Philip S. Jackson, who also instructed "Mathew Chan" to issue notices to search engines to delist the URLs if removing the original reviews proved impossible.
The real Matthew Chan -- who posted the reviews -- had never heard of the lawsuit until after the injunction had already been approved and served. Yelp notified him of the court order it had received. Chan, who still lives in Georgia as far as he can tell, informed Yelp of the situation and the review site decided to reinstate his review. Other sites, however, took the order at face value and removed the reviews. It appears Yelp was the only site to reach out to Chan when presented with the court order -- something that doesn't exactly bode well for users of other review sites. If sites protected by Section 230 are in this much of a hurry to remove content, they're really not the best venues for consumers' complaints.
Somewhat surprisingly, Levy received a response (of sorts) from Mitul Patel's lawyer. They claim this is the first they've heard of the lawsuit filed in Patel's name targeting negative reviews of Patel's dentistry. This wasn't delivered in a comment or statement, but rather in the form of a retraction demand [PDF]. The opening paragraphs are inadvertently hilarious.
This letter is to advise you that I have been retained to represent Mitul Patel, DDS, regarding the contents of your blog, dated Friday, August 19, 2016, entitled "Georgia Dentist Mitul Patel Takes Phony Litigation Scheme to New Extremes Trying to Suppress Criticism".
Based upon a review of your blog, which has unfortunately gone viral, please be advised that the contents of your blog are grossly inaccurate, factually incorrect, and were obviously written for no other purpose but to gain publicity for your blog, and to willfully damage the name and reputation of Dr. Patel.
First, there's the pain of being Streisanded, embodied in the phrase "has unfortunately gone viral." That's the sort of thing that happens when negative reviews are mysteriously injunctioned into the cornfield. Then there's the stupid accusation the Streisanded hurl at those who expose questionable -- and possibly fraudulent -- behavior: that it was motivated by a thirst for internet points. The first statement is merely sad. The second is mostly just tiresome.
The retraction demand goes on to claim that this is the first Mitul Patel has heard of the lawsuit (filed in his name) as well. While this would seem unlikely, Levy points out that a reputation management company could have created plausible deniability by filing a pro se lawsuit under Patel's name (its own kind of fraud) but without notifiying him that this is how it poorly and illegally handles its reputation-scrubbing duties. Unfortunately for Patel, whoever was hired to do this has done further damage to the dentist's reputation while presumably charging him for making things better.
Levy, of course, will not be retracting the post. His response to the demand letter points out that it's rather curious no disavowal was made until after the blog post "unfortunately went viral."
I was not persuaded, however, by your suggestion that I should "retract" the blog post or apologize for it. After all, you acknowledge that much of what I had to say on the blog was true. But I also have qualms about your assertion that, before my blog post was published, Patel had no knowledge of the lawsuit in Baltimore, for two reasons. First, in the course of investigating before I published my article, I obtained from Yelp copies of emails from Mitul Patel to Yelp, attaching the Baltimore court order and asking that Chan's Yelp comments be deleted. I attach the copies of these emails. Yelp has told me that Patel used [email address retracted], the same email address that [rest of sentence retracted]. Unless the email addresses were spoofed, those emails suggest that your client knew about the court order and was trying to take advantage of it.
Moreover, before I posted my article on the blog, I placed two telephone calls to Patel's dental clinic to try to speak with him about the lawsuit; I told his receptionist why I was calling. In addition, on Wednesday, August 17, I sent your client an email message mentioning his lawsuit against Chan and spelling out my concerns. Although he did not call me back and did not reply to the email, I trust he saw the messages before I published my article on Friday.
Levy goes on to point out that it seems strange someone or some company would pay a $165 filing fee to file a bogus defamation lawsuit for Patel without ever informing him it was doing so. The only motivation possible would be a shady reputation management company engaging in shadier tactics because Patel's paying it more than it's shelling out in filing fees. Levy has requested Patel provide him the name of anyone he's hired to do reputation cleanup work or perform SEO optimization on his behalf.
So, it's not just DMCA notices being abused to "protect" dishonest entities' reputations. It's also the legal system, where there's very little compelling lower level judges to spend a few minutes scrutinizing bare bones complaints (and injunction motions) handed to them by shady plaintiffs.
Enigma Software -- creator of the SpyHunter suite of malware/adware removal tools -- recently sued BleepingComputer for forum posts by a third-party volunteer moderator that it claimed were defamatory. In addition, it brought Lanham Act trademark infringement claims against the site -- all in response to a couple of posts that portrayed it in a negative light.
The posts pointed out that the company had a history of threatening critics with litigation and had engaged in a variety of deceptive tactics, including triggering false positives to promote its spyware-cleaning products and placing paying customers on a periodic payment plan that ran in perpetuity under the guise of a one-time "removal" payment.
A somewhat bizarre decision by the judge presiding over the case allowed Enigma's questionable complaint to survive BleepingComputer's motion to dismiss. In doing so, the decision also suggested the judge was willing to poke holes in Section 230 protections -- something that's been happening far too frequently in recent months.
This bogus lawsuit should never have gotten this far. Enigma's original defamation claims contained wording found nowhere in the posts it didn't like, and the company had to make several inferences on behalf of the website it was suing to cobble together its complaint. The lack of a decent anti-SLAPP law in New York kept its defamation claims from being ejected on arrival. Faced with having to litigate its way out of this stupid mess, BleepingComputer has gone on the offensive.
The assertions made in its countersuit suggest Enigma Computer has been -- for quite some time -- fighting speech it doesn't like (the forum posts it sued over) with more speech. Unfortunately, if the "more speech" deployed is just shadiness and bogus claims (the same sort of thing it's suing BC for), then "more speech" isn't really a remedy.
Yesterday, BleepingComputer filed its Answer, Affirmative Defenses, and Counterclaims in response to Enigma Software's Second Amended Complaint. In our filing we stand by our statements that Bleeping Computer has done nothing wrong, that there is no smear campaign against Enigma Software, and that any of the statements posted by the site's volunteer, Quietman7, are either true or purely opinion.
On the other hand, since being sued we have uncovered information that makes us believe that Enigma Software or their agents have been allegedly performing a long term campaign of attacks against BleepingComputer.com.
Our counterclaim includes examples of the following:
Defamation of Bleeping Computer.
Using our trademark "Bleeping Computer" without our permission.
Creating web sites and web pages that use the trademark "Bleeping Computer" to associate the site with malware and other unwanted programs.
Registering at least one domain with our trademark "Bleeping Computer".
Copying text from BleepingComputer.com and hiding it in non-viewable HTML on their sites for search engine optimization purposes.
Actively stating that the BleepingComputer.com security utilities called Rkill and Unhide are viruses.
Furthermore, in all of the above examples, the sites are or have been promoting Enigma's SpyHunter product.
The filing [PDF] fills in the details. Enigma (or its agent) has been creating websites that funnel users to its SpyHunter product while simultaneously suggesting BleepingComputer and its tools are malware.
One site is called Adware Bleeping Computer Removal, which hints that "Bleeping Computer" is something that is unwanted and in need of removal. Sure enough, the site offers instructions on how to remove adware while providing a handy link to download SpyHunter. Another Enigma software-pushing site uses the URL bleepingcomputerregistryfix.com.
Others are hidden behind URLs a bit more innocuous. Enginemachinesupplyshop.com contains pages that claim two tools BleepingComputer has created -- RKill and Unhide -- are "malware/viruses" that "infect" users' computers and should be removed. Naturally, the site recommends SpyHunter. It also includes statements that seem far more defamatory than any of the allegations Enigma is suing BleepingComputer for.
rkill.com is a dangerous computer virus which can destroy the infected computer and record your personal information. If you’re not careful when you visit websites or use online resources, your computer is vulnerable to virus attacks. It has the ability to slow down the computer performance seriously. The computer user’s personal information may be got by the virus makers through the virus, such as credit card or bank account details and social contacts’ information. Therefore, the best way to cancel the malicious behaviors of rkill.com is to get rid of it as soon as possible.
RKill is a program that was developed at BleepingComputer.com that attempts to terminate known malware processes so that your normal security software can then run and clean your computer of infections. When RKill runs it will kill malware processes and then removes incorrect executable associations and fixes policies that stop us from using certain tools. When finished it will display a log file that shows the processes that were terminated while the program was running.
BleepingComputer provides this utility free of charge to users.
The entire filing is worth reading to see just how much Enigma has allegedly done in an attempt to do damage to BleepingComputer's reputation. From what's shown here, it looks as though Enigma's history as a shady, litigious pusher of dubiously-effective software isn't exactly history. It's still very much a part of its reputation management scheme -- one that does nothing to elevate Enigma's esteem and everything to drag critics in the same business down to its level.
from the a-small-shift-in-the-secrecy-status-quo dept
The magical, wonderful, oft-abused National Security Letters have been deemed Constitutional, thanks to the vague promise of reviews by courts and government agencies to determine whether or not the normally-indefinite gag orders accompanying them can stay in place.
The USA Freedom Act took away the "indefinite" part of the equation, stipulating that NSL gag orders must be justified by periodic reviews. Unfortunately, "periodic" was left open-ended. The language only specifies "appropriate intervals." It does place the burden on the government to prove that a NSL's gag order is still necessary, but makes no specific demands on how often the government should have to make these assertions.
The FISA DC District Court, however, has specified what a "periodic review" should entail -- at least narrowing down what period "periodic" should mean.
In this order [PDF], a redacted company exercised its USA Freedom Act option to demand a review of gag orders connected to two NSLs it had received. After some in camera presentations to the FISA court, along with some discussion between the NSL recipient and the FBI, it was agreed that the gag orders could stay in place for the time being, but that the FBI should be given the burden of specifying a time frame for periodic reviews, rather than forcing the recipient to file petitions repeatedly until the gag orders were finally determined to be no longer necessary.
The order redacts the number of years these gag orders have been in place, but it's safe to assume the number hidden behind the gray box is larger than one.
The court looks to the Attorney General's own gag order termination policy, crafted in response to stipulations in the USA Freedom Act. Unfortunately, it doesn't do much to narrow down what sort of "period" a "periodic review" covers. The policy says the FBI only needs to review its NSL gag orders every three years or at the close of an investigation. As the court notes, this is far from satisfactory.
Such procedures, as [REDACTED] points out, leave several large loopholes. First, there is no further review beyond these two, meaning that where a nondisclosure provision is justified at the close of an investigation, it could remain in place indefinitely thereafter. Second, these procedures by their own terms apply only to "investigations that close and/or reach their three-year anniversary date on or after the effective date of these procedures;" as a result "a large swath of NSL nondisclosure provisions… may never be reviewed and could remain unlimited in duration." Third, for long-running investigations, there could be an extended period of time -- indefinite for unsolved cases -- between the third-year anniversary and the close date.
The court points out that the loopholes pretty much nullify the legislation's demand for periodic NSL gag order reviews. The court ordered the FBI to explain why it should not be able to handle annual reviews of its NSL nondisclosure requirements.
The FBI complained that doing so would be "cumbersome." The court agreed that reviewing every NSL every year would be too burdensome for the agency. However, the decision just glides past the jaw-dropping number of NSLs issued by the FBI -- 16,000 annually -- without further comment.
So, the FBI, having burdened itself by using NSLs rather than court orders or warrants, isn't required to perform annual reviews of its gag orders. Fortunately, it's no longer allowed to simply follow the loophole-filled policy issued by the Attorney General. The opinion notes that the AG's policy "seems inconsistent with the intent of the law." Recent FISA court addition Judge James Boasberg pulls a number out of the air and declares it good:
The Court believes that, given both the facts and the circumstances of this particular case and the legal authority discussed above, a triennial review fairly balances the specific burdens on the FBI against the countervailing interest that [REDACTED] has in avoiding a lengthy and indefinite nondisclosure bar.
The gag orders that are currently in place (and have been in place for an indeterminate number of years) are allowed to remain. The FBI will have to review these every three years from now on. This is better than the AG's policy and much better than the open-ended language of the USA Freedom Act.
But it's unclear whether this order is meant to govern the FBI's other NSLs, or simply the two involved in this particular case. There's nothing in the opinion that suggests this is a blanket policy change, but as the court notes earlier in the decision, it seems likely that anything granted to this particular entity will be requested by others in the same position. Given the reasoning used to make this determination, it would be difficult to imagine a situation where similarly-situated recipients would not be able to avail themselves of the court-ordered review process -- rather than being forced to file review petition after review petition for the rest of whatever.
from the 'viewed-in-the-light-most-favorable-to-ignoring-tons-of-precedent...' dept
Enigma Software joined the long line of aggrieved companies who feel that legal threats and questionable lawsuits are the best form of reputation management. It sued BleepingComputer over a "defamatory review" -- which was actually just a forum post by a member that detailed (with supporting links) its questionable SpyHunter software and its "rogue tactics" over the years.
In addition to the defamation claims, Enigma Software also argued that BleepingComputer only did this to steer site readers towards its own products, alleging a handful of Lanham Act violations.
Unfortunately, Enigma Software's dubious claims have survived a motion to dismiss by BleepingComputer, thanks to some similarly dubious reasoning [PDF] by the judge presiding over the case. Not only are the Lanham Act claims given far too much credence (thanks to some twisted judicial analysis that assumes that because trademark is a part of the Lanham Act, false advertising claims under the Lanham Act are also intellectual property claims, exempt from Section 230 of the CDA), but the court's decision to allow the lawsuit to process also punches a few more holes in Section 230 protections.
Because the author of the post was a third-party contributor, BleepingComputer should not have been held responsible for the content of the post. However, the court appears to be bothered that the user in question was referred to as a "staff member" by BleepingComputer, even if it was actually a volunteer administrative post and BleepingComputer did not directly control the content of the user's contributions.
Eric Goldman, in his analysis of the decision, points out that BleepingComputer could have done a better job delineating between actual site administrators and those just helping out, along with providing more comprehensive disclaimers about "superusers" and their contributions to the site.
So what did Bleeping do wrong? In retrospect, calling super-users “staff members” is probably not the best titling. At least to this judge, “staff” sounds too much like “employee.” The court also says that site disclosures saying super-users could be “trusted to give correct…answers” meant that Bleeping communicated that these super-users were authorized to post on its behalf. I don’t see that interpretation of the disclosure at all, but it’s also easy to imagine rewording Bleeping’s disclosures to downgrade the risks. For example, Bleeping could make disclosures that super-users had been selected because of their consistently reliable advice, but they remain independent and fallible.
That being said, the court's decision does more damage to Section 230 protections by holding websites responsible for the content of certain third-party posts. This determination may be only temporary and fall apart as the lawsuit proceeds, but it still gives those filing questionable lawsuits a glimmer of hope that their dubious claims might survive to fight another day. If nothing else, the assertions made by the court will keep the lawyers fed.
Still, I’m irritated by the court’s glossy handling of the Section 230 super-user precedent. I’m also frustrated by the court’s insensitivity to how this ruling undermines Section 230. It green-lights plaintiffs to allege that a user was the site’s implied agent to survive a Section 230 motion to dismiss, even if those allegations fail later in the case. Everyone loses (except the lawyers, of course) when unmeritorious cases get past a Section 230 motion to dismiss.
Other issues present themselves as well in this decision. The statute of limitations of defamation (one year) gets an extension, thanks to the court considering certain links to older posts as "republication," flying in the face of several other decisions on the same topic. (It actually doesn't say quite as much, but refuses to "resolve the issue" at this point.)
And, on the subject of linking to content to support claims made in an allegedly defamatory post, the court seems to find that something done to deter claims of defamation is actually just the creation of a defamatory echo chamber.
The court says this conclusion is reinforced by Bleeping’s and Quietman7’s self-laudatory statements about their credibility and expertise. Thus, the court distinguishes the recent trend of judges presuming that readers don’t take online comments seriously (a trend partially attributable to the NY Sandals case). Also, “[t]he manner of Quietman7’s written presentation—one using footnotes and citations—conveyed further that his advice was based on an ‘investigation’ of verifiable facts.” (Contrast the cases holding that linking to source materials can reduce defamation liability). The court disregards Quietman7’s qualifier statements “[m]y personal recommendation” and “[i]n my opinion.”
One of the most infuriating assertions made in this decision is that Enigma Software is still, somehow, a private entity that only needs to make the most minimal of damage assertions to continue pursuing this lawsuit.
The court rejects Bleeping’s argument that Enigma is a limited-purpose public figure (which would require Enigma to allege facts showing Bleeping had actual malice) because Enigma’s complaint “does not allege any facts suggesting that ESG has taken a public position on the integrity of its business practices or the quality of its products.” FFS. While focusing on the complaint’s four corners is technically permissible under the legal standards for a motion to dismiss, the judge is allowed to take judicial notice of public statements where Enigma–LIKE EVERY OTHER BUSINESS IN THE UNIVERSE SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME–says it does a great job.
While this is not a decision in favor of one party or another, the judge's determinations make it clear that BleepingComputer will be paying a whole lot more in legal fees before this lawsuit (hopefully) is resolved in its favor. Enigma's claims -- not including the severely-stretched "unfair competition" assertions -- were so threadbare as to be almost nonexistent. Its defamation accusations included words not actually used in the post and some complete rewriting of certain post sentences in order to shore up its bogus claims.
Goldman's very thorough assessment of the decision does find that BleepingComputer could have done a few things in a smarter way to avoid potential Section 230 entanglements, but his overall take is that a decent anti-SLAPP law would have gone a long way towards making this lawsuit disappear before dragging the defendants into expensive discovery proceedings. While he grants that motions to dismiss are viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (Enigma Software), the court here has gone out of its way to keep a highly-questionable defamation lawsuit alive -- and has done damage to Section 230 protections in doing so.
from the lead-attorney-pours-gasoline-on-own-head,-lights-match,-hurls-self-into-nearest dept
A Houston law firm has decided to make its mark on the world much in the same way a rogue house pet makes its mark on an expensive Oriental rug. The Tuan A. Khuu law firm has decided it has "no choice" but to sue a 20-year-old student suffering from two broken bones in her back following a collision with two vehicles -- one of them being the drunk driver who started the chain reaction.
Cai had never been in a major accident before, and she needed help from the attorneys while navigating insurance and proving her entitlement to damages. But when the attorneys came to her home, entered her bedroom (the attorneys maintain Cai's mother told them to go in) and then ignored her phone calls and emails in the days immediately after Cai signed the contract, she felt like hiring them was a mistake.
The hiring was a mistake. The firing was apparently also a mistake, especially after Cai headed to her Facebook page and Yelp to express her displeasure with Khuu. These negative reviews resulted in multiple calls and emails from the firm threatening legal action if she did not remove the "dispariging (sic)" review. The firm would have "no choice" but to do this, despite really having no legal or rational reason to do so.
Here's the entirety of the "dispariging" review the firm calls defamatory.
After 3 days, they didn't tell me anything about the doctor I needed to go to. I was in a lot of pain. Not only that, they didn't know where the hell my car was! And they came to my house and into my room to talk to me when I was sleeping in my underwear. Seriously, it's super unprofessional! ...I came in to the office to meet with my previous attorney, but he literally ran off.
Khuu attorney Keith Nguyen is the frontmouth for the firm and appears to regret nothing about suing a 20-year-old waitress who's trying to put herself through school. He claims Cai's review left out certain details and skewed others.
For example, when Cai says that her lawyer “literally ran off” when she showed up unannounced, Nguyen concedes he was on his way out the door, but took a moment to explain to her why there were liens on her insurance. The lawyers who went into her room had no idea she was in her underwear and say they were invited in, Nguyen explained. “It puts us in a bad light,” Nguyen said. “I said [to her], You can say that, but you need to add that we were invited. And she never did. She went ahead and wrote more bad things.”
It takes more than a difference in perspective to turn "bad things" into actionable defamatory statements. Nguyen is an attorney and presumably should know this. Nguyen also, presumably, is an inhabitant of this planet and partakes of the internet, so he should know what sort of effect is triggered by baseless legal bullying.
And, as part of the Khuu firm, he should also be aware that Cai isn't an anomaly. Even before the internet backlash kicked in the door of the firm's Yelp page (which now sports a warning from Yelp that it will remove positive/negative reviews that appear to be solely motivated by media coverage of the ongoing debacle), the law office wasn't exactly known for its stellar customer service. Meagan Flynn of the Houston Press points out that the Khuu law offices' Yelp pages are littered with negative reviews.
[G]ood reviews are hard to find, no matter which of the law firm's three locations you search. A guy named Han in Richardson, Texas, wrote, “Duped and filthy legal services. They trap you in their plan and dupe you out for their own goods. Stay away to protect yourself and your family.” A guy named Kevin from Austin: “They like to delay responses and make excuses for not returning calls. Incompetent and unreliable are the words I would use to describe their staff.” Charlie from Houston: “I went in for a 'free consultation' and it became a decision I would soon regret.”
In addition to the inevitable Streisanding, the Khuu law firm has also jabbed a stick into a hornet's nest of lawyers with low tolerance for bullying bullshit. So far, the law office's decision to sue a student for $200,000 has already attracted offers of assistance from Popehat's Ken White, First Amendment Badass (Texas Div.) Mark W. Bennett, and Scott Greenfield, whose undying curmudgeonliness (and undying AOL email address) are perfectly complemented by the number of fucks he gives about jabbing back at stupid attorneys. If this is just the initial response to the Khuu office legal threats, it's time to invest heavily in popcorn futures.
The immediate good news is that Lan Cai is now represented, pro bono, by Houston attorney Michael Fleming. Fleming hopes to flip this bogus lawsuit back on the Khuu law firm by using Texas' anti-SLAPP law -- the Texas Citizens Participation Act -- and extract $50,000 from the firm for the trouble it's caused. He also points out that the firm's reputation was pretty much an open sewage line well before Cai expressed her opinion, so it's unlikely the office can prove yet another negative review caused any actual damage to the firm itself.
from the zarrelli-school-of-reputation-management dept
Yelp -- both a frequent target of misguided lawsuits and the host of many, many targets of similarly-misguided lawsuits -- has instituted a nifty new flag that lets readers and reviewers know which businesses are issuing legal threats or filing lawsuits over negative reviews. The warning -- pictured below -- first showed up in May after Prestigious Pets went legal over a review it didn't care for.
Dayani, who says he gets plenty of positive and negative feedback on Yelp and is comfortable with both, says the claims by Rohs weren’t simply a negative review. He alleges her comments amount to defamation, and he sued Rohs two days after the review was posted. It’s an accusation the dentist has levied against at least four previous patients who have written negative reviews about his practice, according to a BuzzFeed News review of court records.
Dayani said false negative reviews like Rohs’ have harmed his practice over time. He said he laid off one part-time staff member because of a drop in business.
“[Rohs] accused me of malpractice by saying I didn’t diagnose her,” he said. “When you are publicly accusing someone of malpractice, you are damaging their reputation.”
This is an odd claim, considering Rohs never once uses the word malpractice in her review, or even alleges anything to that effect. She says she endured a very long wait to see Dr. Dayani and, when he finally did see her, he was "curt and dismissive."
Dr. Dayani was curt and dismissive, and seemed annoyed with the way I answered his questions. But he did seem to be genuinely interested in finding out what was causing my pain, and how it can be helped. However, it was an absurdly long wait. After about an HOUR, I was finally seen (my appt was at 11AM). Then after speaking with him for about 5-10 minutes, he left me for "just a second" to deal with another patient... I didn't see him for another half hour. Of the total TWO HOURS FIFTEEN MINUTES I was there, I think I was speaking to Dr. Dayani for about 30 minutes of that whole time. The rest was spent in his chair, without being offered a water or a magazine. And at the end of it all, he couldn't help determine what was bothering me. I left with a mouth full of pain and a recommendation to see my dentist for a possible cavity.
Four lawsuits against four unhappy patients is no way to run a business. Dayani may claim he only goes after those posting "false" information, but his summation of Rohs' complaint against him is so far off-base, it makes one wonder what he considers to be "false."
But more disturbing than his tendency to sue negative reviewers is the offer he made to Buzzfeed News, as pointed out by Adam Steinbaugh.
Dayani insists that he only goes after online reviewers who post false information. He offered BuzzFeed News the opportunity to visit his office and review records related to the cases where he has sued patients to prove their allegations are false. BuzzFeed News declined.
When a medical professional offers to potentially violate HIPAA privacy protections to protect his reputation, it's a pretty good sign the medical professional doesn't have much reputation left to burn. This indicates -- along with the lawsuits -- that Dr. Dayani isn't quite as receptive to criticism as he claims.
The upshot is that Yelp is now publicly calling out businesses who use legal threats and litigation to manage their reputations. It serves as a counterweight to those whose ratings might seem suspiciously high and serve as a warning to those who might be unhappy with their experience, but not quite ready to retain a lawyer.
Copyright is supposed to be a limited-use protection for creative works. The "limited" part went away with endless term extensions and auto-copyright for any creation attached to a "fixed medium." These days, copyright is the magical cure-all that doesn't actually cure anything. It's a weapon to be wielded dishonestly and inelegantly against the ignorant, in hopes of limiting speech to only what IP abusers like.
The case arose from a posting on a gripe site called Ripoff Report that recites a litany of insults and complaints written by Christopher Dupont against Massachusetts lawyer Richard Goren. Goren sued for defamation, and Dupont never showed up to defend the suit, so the court issued a "default judgment" in favor of Goren.1
Here's where things get odd. As part of the default judgment, Goren asked for and received a court order purporting to transfer Dupont's ownership of his copyright in the post to Goren. Goren and his company Small Justice then sued Ripoff Report's parent company Xcentric for copyright infringement.
The default judgment transferring copyright is indeed odd, as it has nothing to do with relief from defamation. The judgment simply should have resulted in a court order directed at Dupont to remove the review. (It's a default judgment so the question of whether or not the review is truly defamatory hasn't been explored, but...)
Ripoff Report isn't really helping matters with its policies. For one, it refuses to take down reviews for almost any reason, while also allowing entities to purchase services like statement retractions and the burial of negative reviews. It also prevents users from deleting posted complaints, presumably to head off legal threats issued by criticized parties. This doesn't do much for users who might delete something when threatened, but it also lets those who issue bogus threats know that this tactic won't work here.
Ripoff Report's copyright claim to the disputed review isn't much better than the lawyer's post-judgment claim. Anyone posting a complaint to Ripoff Report is forced to click through an "agreement" that hands over the rights to the complaint to Xcentric.
Unfortunately, Xcentric's legal theories haven't all been good for users, either: Xcentric claimed that it, in fact, is the true owner of the copyright in content posted to its site, not the users. The argument was based on the fine print to which users "agree" when they post content, which says that Xcentric gains an "exclusive license" to the content. It is a quirk of copyright law that this exclusive license language is actually code for transferring ownership of the copyright.
The EFF and Public Citizen argue against this "agreement," as well as Goren's abuse of IP protections, in its submitted brief [PDF]. In it, they make the point that Xcentric/Ripoff Report have a non-exclusive license to host users' reviews, rather than being in complete control of the content. While this may seem more favorable to the plaintiff and his infringement claim, it also insulates Xcentric from being sued for copyright infringement.
In contrast, users do clearly intend to give Xcentric permission to host the content, and understand that permission cannot be revoked. This is called an irrevocable, non-exclusive license, and in this case granting such a license to Xcentric advances the user's interest in censorship-resistant publishing on Ripoff Report and does not restrict their freedom to repost elsewhere. Therefore, even if Goren did obtain ownership of the copyright, Xcentric would not be liable because it has permission to host the content, and that permission cannot be retracted.
In lay terms, the terms of service are themselves a ripoff.
This explains why Ripoff Report wants the court to bypass any examination of its browsewrap "agreement" when considering the amicus brief, despite the fact that it would help defend it against bogus infringement lawsuits like Goren's.
Abusing IP law is often the path of least resistance. And that is true of Ripoff Report just as much as it is for the aggrieved lawyer.
Those who wish to censor will try to use whatever area of law has the weakest protections for free speech. We encourage the First Circuit and other courts to bolster speech protections in the copyright realm, to resist attempts to dress up other claims as copyright infringement in order to censor speech, and to look askance at clickthrough "contracts" that compromise users' freedom.
In a comment posted yesterday to my blog post last week about an amicus brief that Public Citizen and EFF filed in the First Circuit, Ripoff Report founder Ed Magedson announced that his company is going to modify the browsewrap agreement that it has been imposing on users, whereby the company purported to obtain an exclusive license to carry reviewers’ critical content. This is progress for which that company deserves praise.
Progress, yes. But Xcentric still asserts its control of the copyright, albeit now in nonexclusive form. Magedson claims this control is needed to battle scraper sites, and will never (and has never) been used to go after site users. But Levy is not so sure this "protection" is actually necessary.
Indeed, when I pressed Magedson in a conversation after he made his comment, it seemed to me that the justification for taking copyright was two-fold – that scrapers take traffic from his web site, and that scrapers make it less valuable for companies to buy into the “Corporate Advocacy Program.” Neither of those arguments suggests that there is any reason why the interests of consumers who write reviews on Ripoff Report are advanced by the taking copyright ownership away from them.
Not sure what's going on in California, but it's been suddenly issuing a bunch of really bad rulings concerning Section 230 of the CDA (the most important law on the internet). As we've explained many times, Section 230 says that online services cannot be held liable for actions of their users (and also, importantly, that if those platforms do decide to moderate content in any way, that doesn't impact their protections from liability). This is massively important for protecting free speech online, because it means that platforms don't have to proactively monitor user behavior out of fear of legal liability and they don't feel the need to over-aggressively take down content to avoid being sued.
Over and over again the courts have interpreted Section 230 quite broadly to protect internet platforms. This has been good for free speech and good for the internet overall (and, yes, good for online companies, which is why some are so against Section 230). But, as we've been noting, Section 230 has been under attack in the past year or so, and all of a sudden courts seem to be chipping away at the protections of Section 230. Last week we wrote about a bad appeals court ruling that said Section 230 did not protect a website from being sued over failing to warn users of potential harm that could come from some users on the site. Then, earlier this week, we wrote about an even worse ruling in San Mateo Superior Court (just a block away from my office...) exempting publicity rights from Section 230.
And now, Eric Goldman points our attention to an even worse ruling coming out of California state's appeals court for the First Appellate district. In this ruling, the court determines that Yelp can be forced to delete reviews that the court found defamatory (though entirely based on a default judgment, where the defendant didn't show up in court). In previous cases most courts have found that even if content is found to be defamatory, a third party website cannot be forced to delete it, because of the pesky First Amendment.
In this case, the court doesn't care. The background of the case involves a lawyer, Dawn Hassell, who sued a former client, Ava Bird, who allegedly posted negative reviews of Hassell's work. Hassell sued, Bird ignored, and the court ruled for Hassell as a default judgment. As part of this it also ordered Yelp to remove the reviews. Yelp protested. The court then twists itself into all kinds of questionable knots to ignore both Section 230 and the First Amendment. The court first questions whether or not Yelp can even make the First Amendment argument, seeing as it's also claiming that it's not the author of the content in question. Of course, that totally misses the point: it's not necessarily just about the content in the review, but also Yelp's First Amendment rights in presenting content on its website.
In order to claim a First Amendment stake in this case, Yelp characterizes itself as a publisher or distributor. But, at other times Yelp portrays itself as more akin to an Internet bulletin board—a host to speakers, but in no way a speaker itself. Of course, Yelp may play different roles depending on the context. However, in this context it appears to us that the removal order does not treat Yelp as a publisher of Bird’s speech, but rather as the administrator of the forum that Bird utilized to publish her defamatory reviews.
But, uh, the administrator of a forum still has separate First Amendment rights in determining how they present things in their forum. That's kind of how it works. As Eric Goldman notes:
What the hell is an “administrator of the forum,” and what legal consequences attach to that status? We’re not talking about the free speech rights of a janitor with a mop. This case involves a curator of speech–and even if the curator is just “administrating,” telling a curator how to administrate raises significant speech interests that deserve more respect than this court gave it.
The court then suggests that the First Amendment doesn't apply because Yelp has no right to question a court.
To the extent Yelp has ever meant to contend that an injunction requiring Bird to remove defamatory statements from the Internet injuriously affects Yelp, we disagree. Yelp’s claimed interest in maintaining Web site as it deems appropriate does not include the right to second-guess a final court judgment which establishes that statements by a third party are defamatory and thus unprotected by the First Amendment.
Yikes! That of course, ignores the actual issue at play -- especially the fact that the finding of defamation was on default, rather than through an actual adversarial process.
But the really scary part is how the court gets around Section 230. Goldman refers to it as "jujitsu" and that's a pretty apt analogy:
Yelp argues the authority summarized above establishes that the removal order is void. We disagree. The removal order does not violate section 230 because it does not impose any liability on Yelp. In this defamation action, Hassell filed their complaint against Bird, not Yelp; obtained a default judgment against Bird, not Yelp; and was awarded damages and injunctive relief against Bird, not Yelp.
Okay... but then it's ordering Yelp to remove the reviews, despite being a non-party. And if Yelp does not remove the reviews, then it's in contempt of court, which means that yes, the court is absolutely applying liability. But, no, says the court, because [reasons].
If an injunction is itself a form of liability, that liability was imposed on Bird, not Yelp. Violating the injunction or the removal order associated with it could potentially trigger a different type of liability which implicates the contempt power of the court.
Got that. It's not liability because it's "a different type of liability." WHAT?!? Where in the law does it say that "a different type of liability" (with no clear definition) is allowed? The court clarifies by muddying the waters some more:
In our opinion, sanctioning Yelp for violating a court order would not implicate section 230 at all; it would not impose liability on Yelp as a publisher or distributor of third party content.
This makes no sense at all.
Separately, the court keeps relying on the fact that Yelp itself was not sued by Hassell, and that all other cases involved service providers that were parties to the case. But that leads to ridiculous results:
As we have pointed out, Hassell did not allege any cause of action seeking to hold Yelp liable for Bird’s tort. The removal order simply sought to control the perpetuation of judicially declared defamatory statements. For this reason, Yelp seriously understates the significance of the fact that Hassell obtained a judgment which establishes that three reviews Bird posted on Yelp.com are defamatory as a matter of law, and which includes an injunction enjoining Bird from repeating those three reviews on Yelp.com. Indeed, that injunction is a key distinction between this case and the CDA cases that Yelp has cited, all of which involved allegations of defamatory conduct by a third party, and not a judicial determination that defamatory statements had, in fact, been made by such third party on the Internet service provider’s Web site.
But under that standard, the court has just offered up a huge hole to avoid Section 230: just don't name the service provider, and then you can force the service provider to take down the content. If that stands, very bad things will happen as a result. As Goldman points out in response to this, the court is simply wrong:
So the court is flat-out wrong. While I believe it’s correct that none of the cases were posed as contempt proceedings, the actions in both Blockowicz and Giordano also came after lower court findings of defamation. And in any case, WTF? Is the court saying that Section 230 preempts a direct lawsuit against a UGC site seeking injunctive relief, but it’s totally OK to reach the same result by not naming the UGC site in the lawsuit and then enforcing an injunction via contempt proceedings?
Goldman goes on to note how this ruling will create all kinds of mischief opportunities:
Step 1: sue the content poster for defamation in California state court. Do not sue the UGC site because (a) they are immune under Section 230, or (b) they might decide to fight substantively.
Step 2: take advantage of loose service of process rules and or otherwise hope the poster doesn’t appear in the case. For example, non-California residents aren’t likely to fight in a California court even if they get notice.
Step 3: get a default judgment finding defamation. If the user does make an appearance, a stipulated judgment with the user could reach the same result.
Step 4: seek an injunction requiring removal by the UGC site. Once the judge accepts the service of process and concludes the defendant didn’t show, the judge will probably do just about whatever the plaintiff asks. With the default judgment, the plaintiff can then use the coercive effect of contempt to force the UGC site to remove the content so long as the UGC site is under California’s jurisdictional reach–which most UGC sites are.
Voila! A right to be forgotten in the US, despite the First Amendment and Section 230.
As an added bonus, in the same lawsuit, the plaintiff can target multiple items of unwanted content by claiming it’s also written by the defendant or someone working in concert with the defendant. For example, I don’t believe it was ever confirmed that Birdzeye and JD are the same person, but consistent with the less-stringent approach deployed by judges when faced with default proceedings, the court treats both reviews as if the author(s) of the opinions was in court. If, in fact, JD is a different person, then Hassell successfully scrubbed JD’s content without ever suing the actual author or serving proper notice on the author. As you can see, there’s a great collateral damage potential here.
Goldman also warns that this ruling may not be easy to overturn. Yelp can (and should) appeal to the state Supreme Court, but there's no guarantee it will take the case. There are legislative solutions, but those are unlikely as well. But for the time being, this ruling is a ticking time bomb. It can and will be abused. We see so many attempts to censor content by abusing copyright law, and now California has given people a playbook for how to abuse defamation law to do the same thing.
Burned by negative reviews, some health providers are casting their patients' privacy aside and sharing intimate details online as they try to rebut criticism.
In the course of these arguments -- which have spilled out publicly on ratings sites like Yelp -- doctors, dentists, chiropractors and massage therapists, among others, have divulged details of patients' diagnoses, treatments and idiosyncrasies.
One Washington state dentist turned the tables on a patient who blamed him for the loss of a molar: "Due to your clenching and grinding habit, this is not the first molar tooth you have lost due to a fractured root," he wrote. "This tooth is no different."
In California, a chiropractor pushed back against a mother's claims that he misdiagnosed her daughter with scoliosis. "You brought your daughter in for the exam in early March 2014," he wrote. "The exam identified one or more of the signs I mentioned above for scoliosis. I absolutely recommended an x-ray to determine if this condition existed; this x-ray was at no additional cost to you."
And a California dentist scolded a patient who accused him of misdiagnosing her. "I looked very closely at your radiographs and it was obvious that you have cavities and gum disease that your other dentist has overlooked. ... You can live in a world of denial and simply believe what you want to hear from your other dentist or make an educated and informed decision."
Health professionals are adapting to a harsh reality in which consumers rate them on sites like Yelp, Vitals and RateMDs much as they do restaurants, hotels and spas. The vast majority of reviews are positive. But in trying to respond to negative ones, some providers appear to be violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA. The law forbids them from disclosing any patient health information without permission.
Yelp has given ProPublica unprecedented access to its trove of public reviews -- more than 1.7 million in all -- allowing us to search them by keyword. Using a tool developed by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, we identified more than 3,500 one-star reviews (the lowest) in which patients mention privacy or HIPAA. In dozens of instances, responses to complaints about medical care turned into disputes over patient privacy.
The patients affected say they've been doubly injured -- first by poor service or care and then by the disclosure of information they considered private.
The shock of exposure can be effective, prompting patients to back off.
"I posted a negative review" on Yelp, a client of a California dentist wrote in 2013. "After that, she posted a response with details that included my personal dental information. … I removed my review to protect my medical privacy."
The consumer complained to the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which enforces HIPAA. The office warned the dentist about posting personal information in response to Yelp reviews. It is currently investigating a New York dentist for divulging personal information about a patient who complained about her care, according to a letter reviewed by ProPublica.
The office couldn't say how many complaints it has received in this area because it doesn't track complaints this way. ProPublica has previously reported about the agency's historic inability to analyze its complaints and identify repeat HIPAA violators.
Deven McGraw, the office's deputy director of health information privacy, said health professionals responding to online reviews can speak generally about the way they treat patients but must have permission to discuss individual cases. Just because patients have rated their health provider publicly doesn't give their health provider permission to rate them in return.
"If the complaint is about poor patient care, they can come back and say, 'I provide all of my patients with good patient care' and 'I've been reviewed in other contexts and have good reviews,' " McGraw said. But they can't "take those accusations on individually by the patient."
McGraw pointed to a 2013 case out of California in which a hospital was fined $275,000 for disclosing information about a patient to the media without permission, allegedly in retaliation for the patient complaining to the media about the hospital.
Yelp's senior director of litigation, Aaron Schur, said most reviews of doctors and dentists aren't about the actual health care delivered but rather their office wait, the front office staff, billing procedures or bedside manner. Many health providers are careful and appropriate in responding to online reviews, encouraging patients to contact them offline or apologizing for any perceived slights. Some don't respond at all.
"There's certainly ways to respond to reviews that don't implicate HIPAA," Schur said.
In 2012, University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City was the first hospital system in the country to post patient reviews and comments online. The system, which had to overcome doctors' resistance to being rated, found positive comments far outnumbered negative ones.
"If you whitewash comments, if you only put those that are highly positive, the public is very savvy and will consider that to be only advertising," said Thomas Miller, chief medical officer for the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics.
Unlike Yelp, the University of Utah does not allow comments about a doctor's medical competency, and it does not allow physicians to respond to comments.
In discussing their battles over online reviews, patients said they'd turned to ratings sites for closure and in the hope that their experiences would help others seeking care. Their providers' responses, however, left them with a lingering sense of lost trust.
Angela Grijalva brought her then 12-year-old daughter to Maximize Chiropractic in Sacramento, Calif., a couple years ago for an exam. In a one-star review on Yelp, Grijalva alleged that chiropractor Tim Nicholl led her daughter to "believe she had scoliosis and urgently needed x-rays, which could be performed at her next appointment. … My daughter cried all night and had a tough time concentrating at school."
But it turned out her daughter did not have scoliosis, Grijalva wrote. She encouraged parents to stay away from the office.
Nicholl replied on Yelp, acknowledging that Grijalva's daughter was a patient (a disclosure that is not allowed under HIPAA) and discussing the procedures he performed on her and her condition, though he said he could not disclose specifics of the diagnosis "due to privacy and patient confidentiality."
"The next day you brought your daughter back in for a verbal review of the x-rays and I informed you that the x-rays had identified some issues, but the good news was that your daughter did not have scoliosis, great news!" he recounted. "I proceeded to adjust your daughter and the adjustment went very well, as did the entire appointment; you made no mention of a 'misdiagnosis' or any other concern."
In an interview, Grijalva said Nicholl's response "violated my daughter and her privacy."
"I wouldn't want another parent, another child to go through what my daughter went through: the panic, the stress, the fear," she added.
Nicholl declined a request for comment. "It just doesn't seem like this is worth my time," he said. His practice has mixed reviews on Yelp, but more positive than negative.
A few years ago, Marisa Speed posted a review of North Valley Plastic Surgery in Phoenix after her then–3-year-old son received stitches there for a gash on his chin. "Half-way through the procedure, the doctor seemed flustered with my crying child. ...," she wrote. "At this point the doctor was more upset and he ended up throwing the instruments to the floor. I understand that dealing with kids requires extra effort, but if you don't like to do it, don't even welcome them."
An employee named Chase replied on the business's behalf: "This patient presented in an agitated and uncontrollable state. Despite our best efforts, this patient was screaming, crying, inconsolable, and a danger to both himself and to our staff. As any parent that has raised a young boy knows, they have the strength to cause harm."
Speed and her husband complained to the Office for Civil Rights. "You may wish to remove any specific information about current or former patients from your Web-blog," the Office for Civil Rights wrote in an October 2013 letter to the surgery center.
In an email, a representative of the surgery center declined to comment. "Everyone that was directly involved in the incident no longer works here. The nurse on this case left a year ago, the surgeon in the case retired last month, and the administrator left a few years ago," he wrote.
Reviews of North Valley Plastic Surgery are mixed on Yelp.
Health providers have tried a host of ways to try to combat negative reviews. Some have sued their patients, attracting a torrent of attention but scoring few, if any, legal successes. Others have begged patients to remove their complaints.
Jeffrey Segal, a one-time critic of review sites, now says doctors need to embrace them. Beginning in 2007, Segal's company, Medical Justice, crafted contracts that health providers could give to patients asking them to sign over the copyright to any reviews, which allowed providers to demand that negative ones be removed. But after a lawsuit, Medical Justice stopped recommending the contracts in 2011.
Segal said he has come to believe reviews are valuable and that providers should encourage patients who are satisfied to post positive reviews and should respond -- carefully -- to negative ones.
"For doctors who get bent out of shape to get rid of negative reviews, it's a denominator problem," he said. "If they only have three reviews and two are negative, the denominator is the problem. ... If you can figure out a way to cultivate reviews from hundreds of patients rather than a few patients, the problem is solved."