Fake review? Google compelled to release name and address details

Many businesses suffer from fake reviews on Google. They are easy to post. But a lot harder to remove. What can businesses do about this? Liability attorney Gea Flapper provides answers and discusses recent cases against Google.

Fake reviews

Potential customers increasingly base their decisions on reviews of companies that are posted online – on Google, for example. These reviews can also include fake reviews. Those can be posted by former employees, competitors or individuals that bear a grudge against the company – all posing as “dissatisfied” customers. It goes without saying that these reviews are damaging to the business in question.

Google asked to remove reviews

In these cases, businesses can ask Google to take down the review, or have an attorney file a summation. Experience has shown that Google often does not offer a positive response. In that case, legal proceedings can be issued against Google.

Proceedings against Google in the media

In mid-February 2020, the media covered a court in Australia which judged that Google was obligated to share The portion of registered capital of a private or public limited company
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an anonymous user’s name and address details. A dentist received a poor review, which took business away from his practice. He wanted to sue the anonymous reviewer for defamation. He needed Google to retrieve the individual’s name and address details, but Google was unwilling to cooperate.

Proceedings in the Netherlands

(Injunction) proceedings are also issued against Google in the Netherlands. In November 2019, a tailor succeeded in getting Google to take down a review and provide the name and address details of the individual who posted the review.

Case

This case involved ten very negative reviews of the tailor, which it may be assumed were posted by the same person. It may also be assumed that the negative content did not describe actual events. The reviews were posted with the sole purpose of damaging the tailor’s reputation. Such acts are unlawful.

Lycos/Pessers circumstances

In the Lycos/Pessers landmark decision, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that a service provider (like Google) can act unlawfully under certain circumstances by not sharing name and address details with a concerned third party when requested to do so. This can particularly be the case if the following circumstances occur:

  • There is a sufficiently plausible likelihood that the information is unlawful and damaging to the third party;
  • The third party has a real interest in obtaining the name and address details;
  • It is plausible that in the concrete case, no less extensive method exists to obtain the name and address details;
  • The consideration of all interests involved shows that the interest of the third party should prevail.

Judgement by the District Court in Amsterdam

In this concrete case, the District Court in Amsterdam ruled that the circumstances showed that protecting the honour and reputation of the tailor outweighed the freedom of Google users to post fake reviews and the freedom of the Internet public to be able to receive those reviews.

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