In the months that followed, Eden and Oxley went to the Civil and Administrative Court in Victoria to try to recover their money.
They were successful, winning an order in their favor for $3327.50. The money was finally paid a year after the order was placed.
Eden and Oxley believe this was the spark for an online campaign against them.
According to court documents, the first fake notice posted by the owners of the moving company or people associated with them appeared on the Designer Plants business page in May 2019.
“Very poor quality products. Please save your store money elsewhere,” the review said.
The reviewer’s name was the same as that of a Melbourne Movers staff member, according to Eden and Oxley’s statement of claim, and had posted a five-star review on his employer’s Google business page on the same day .
In the years since, Eden and Oxley say their page has been flooded with bad reviews accusing them of ripping people off, not offering refunds, selling substandard products and having rude staff.
Sometimes the same typos were repeated, like “dogie” or “doggy” instead of dodgy.
“When comments are made like that, you don’t think it’s going to turn into a years-long ordeal,” Eden said.
“And you certainly don’t think you’ll have to spend the amount of money we’re spending trying to solve it. »
According to court documents, Eden and Oxley asked Google to remove the reviews, but the tech company only removed a few.
In July 2020, Eden and Oxley began proceedings in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court seeking an intervention order against the movers to prevent them from posting any further notices.
They obtained an interim order, according to civil court documents, which required the movers not to “post on the Internet[…]all material on [Oxley and/or Eden]″.
Rather than stop, Eden and Oxley say the movers posted another 32 negative reviews the day after the order was served.
The reviews were published under the names of the movers themselves, Eden and Oxley claim, or people associated with them. All of the reviews had a similar writing style to previous negative articles, say Eden and Oxley.
In subsequent hearings, subpoenas were issued to Google in an attempt to establish the identity of those posting the reviews. Victoria Police also asked Google for information to unmask the anonymous posters.
But Google has refused to comply, say Eden and Oxley, and has generally made it difficult to stop reviews through its complaints process.
Both men are currently suing for libel in Victoria County Court.
Establishing the real identity of the reviewers will be key to the case.
They are suing the owners of the moving company, Udari Koushalya, Bangamu Achichi and Rangika Abeyweera, for defamation and harmful lying for publishing the allegedly false reviews.
Google is being sued for defamation for publishing five of the reviews, with legal documents on file at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Google declined to comment when contacted by Sunday age.
In defense papers, the company denied the reviews were defamatory and said it could not meet Victoria Police’s request because it did not have enough information to find the account associated.
The search giant also admitted that it did not respond to the court subpoena because it was “under no legal compulsion to produce such documents”.
The movers did not respond to a request for comment when contacted through their lawyers. In their defense document, Achichi and Abeyweera deny having told Eden and Oxley that they would “regret meeting them”.
The movers also denied that the first notice posted in March 2019 was from anyone associated with them or that they posted notices after the service order was served.
“They did not ask anyone to post negative reviews of the plaintiffs’ business profile on their behalf,” the defense document states.
The case is due to go to trial before judge alone in January next year.
John Price, the lawyer representing Eden and Oxley, said it was the “worst online harassment he has seen” and that current laws make it extremely difficult for people to claim their rights.
Eden and Oxley estimate that the financial cost of trying to stop the reviews has been over $100,000 so far and the cost of damage to the business, including lost sales, was over $1. million bucks.
“At the end of the day nobody wants to go through the legal process, it’s expensive and time consuming, it’s a last resort,” he said.
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