It’s a thorn in the side of all businesses: bad reviews on the Internet. On the other side there is the freedom of speech and everyone can be critical thesedays, also anonymously. When can you demand Google to remove bad reviews? Attorney Hidde Reitsma discusses a recent Dutch case where this issue was addressed.
In this case the facts are the following. The Dutch claimant has a day-care centre that has existed for 23 years. In the period June – November 2015, four bad reviews about her were placed on Google Maps. The claimant summoned Google to remove the reviews and provide the address and IP details to the claimant. Google refused this, which resulted in the claimant instituting preliminary relief proceedings.
The claimant states that she is the victim of a smear campaign with the Google review tool. According to her, Google’s ‘notice and take down system’ is a failure. Google refuses to remove the four reviews, in spite of the fact that the claimant has shown that the four reviewers acted contrary to Google’s ‘review and photo policies’. These policies state, among others, that people cannot post a review under someone else’s name, and there can be no false reports (‘spam’) .
The claimant substantiated that the names of the persons listed with the reviews are unknown to her staff and cannot be traced back to parents or relatives of children that were in her day-care centre. The claimant also showed that two of the reviews are literal copies of other reviews on the internet that are not about the claimant. The other two reviews show profile pictures of persons from abroad, and 1 of these has actually passed away in 2006! The claimant therefore argues that all four reviews are demonstrably ‘fake reviews’.
The conditions for obtaining address and IP details from a hosting provider/intermediary are recorded in the 2005 Lycos/Pessors ruling. There has to be:
i) Sufficient feasibility that the publication is wrongful;
ii) A real interest in obtaining the details;
iii) No less invasive measure to obtain the details and;
iv) A balance of interest where the interest of the party demanding the details exceeds the interests (freedom of expression and privacy) of the publishing party.
Shortly before the hearing, Google removed 3 of the 4 reviews as yet, because these are in fact ‘spam’. The court found that Google should also remove the fourth review as contrary to its own policies. The court also granted, after allowing the criteria in Lycos/Pessors, the claim that Google must provide the address and IP details of all four reviewers to the claimant.
If you are in a similar situation or have any questions about media law, you can contact AMS Lawyers.