Dutch Court orders Google to delete fake reviews and to provide details of accounts

Recently, in a case between a local tailor in Amsterdam and Google, the District Court of Amsterdam ordered Google to delete ten fake reviews from Google Map’s review section, and to provide the tailor with the user details of the accounts behind these reviews[1]. This decision is in keeping with the decision of the court on the same day, where Facebook was ordered to block fake advertisement on its platform and to share user details of the accounts posting these advertisements.[2]

In this Google case, the court stated that it could be suspected that all ten reviews originated from either the same person or the same group of persons.  This was based on the combination of a number of factors identified by the tailor: all the reviews were written in the same style (often using the same words), all reviews specifically mentioned the owner of the shop in a denigrating way, all of them were written in English (or badly translated in Dutch) and most of them referred to other reviews or encouraged the reader to search for the other negative reviews. The reviews contained some factual errors and the names of the reviewers were obviously fake (as these names could not be traced to specific individuals or were of the two members of the electro house duo Daft Punk). The court also took into consideration that over the past years only three negative reviews had been posted on the Google page of the tailor.

Google’s main defense was that it is of major importance that the information displayed online should be deemed trustworthy and complete, and that therefore the court should act cautiously regarding restricting either Google’s services or the information provided on its platform. Google emphasized its important role in the modern-day society, arguing that this should withhold the court from imposing a restriction or sanction on the platform. The court explicitly noted in its judgment that it was important to render a judgment cautiously, when deciding if Google must be ordered to delete the presumed fake reviews, in the light of both the fundamental right of freedom of expression -even in the case of anonymous users-  and considering the fact that Google’s services have a facilitating role with regard to disseminating information over the internet. However, even taking this into consideration, the protection of the honour and reputation of the tailor was of more importance than the freedom of Google-users to post fake online reviews, and of the public to receive these fake reviews.

As online reviews, either fake or genuine, are of major importance for a lot of businesses and consumers it is important to ensure a system in which fake, damaging reviews can be acted against. Following these recent judgments, it seems that the court is offering this protection, however explicitly mentioning that it is of utmost importance to always carefully balance the interests at hand.   

[1] District Court of Amsterdam 11 November 2019, IEF 18816/IT2940 (Tailor against Google)

[2] District Court of Amsterdam 11 November 2019, ECLI:NL:2019:8415 (X against Facebook)