Fake reviews for products and services have plagued Amazon, Google, and Yelp for years. Now an Amsterdam nursery has won a case against Google in a civil court in which the company was not only forced to take down several negative fake reviews appearing on its social network, Google+, but also disclose details like the IP addresses of the people who posted them.
Google puts a lot of weight behind product reviews when it comes to optimizing content and Web sites that appear in search query results. Good reviews can have a positive influence on the placement of a Web page in search query results, just as negative product reviews can push a site listing to page three.
The nursery -- its name redacted from the ruling -- filed a suit against Google after receiving harassing reviews for more than six months. The reviews posted on Google+ and visible when searching for the nursery on Google Maps claimed the business was harming children.
"I am writing on behalf of the experiences I've had with my grandchildren on this terrible day care," one reviewer wrote, according to the English translation. "My daughter wants nothing more to do with it. Appearances are deceptive and behind the seemingly friendly and professional policies. We are very disappointed and terribly treated and want to warn people here."
The nursery had initially contacted Google directly to request that the reviews be removed, saying they were not authentic. It provided proof that they were copied and pasted from other Web sites, as well as posted with profile pictures copied from other people, according to TechCrunch, citing the lawyer for the nursery, Paul Tjiam of Simmons & Simmons.
The nursery took Google to court after it refused to take the reviews down, claiming the Google+ posted reviews fall under freedom of speech and that reviews being negative or anonymous are not justification enough to take them down.
During a court hearing, Judge CM Berkhout determined the reviews were fake and damaging and ordered Google to remove them.
While Tjiam told TechCrunch he believed it was the first time Google had been required to provide contact details and IP addresses for Google reviewers, the ruling also highlights the challenges for search engines in the ongoing battle of the right-to-delist rule, better known as the right to be forgotten, and for online companies in the quest for privacy, and freedom of speech.