Google Loses Court Case Over Fake Online Reviews

John Lister's picture

A court has ordered Google to hand over details that could identify the people behind four accounts used for bogus online reviews. One of the accounts had assumed the identity of a dead woman.

The reviews were made on the social networking site Google+. While the site has arguably struggled to compete with the likes of Facebook, posts there are particularly likely to show up in search results for a relevant term.

In this case the reviews were of an Amsterdam daycare center, and would appear next to a map of the center's location before the rest of the "ranked" search results.

Reviews Were Defamatory

It wasn't simply a matter of the reviews being fake, or the fact that they were negative, that led to the court case. Instead the daycare center said the reviews contained bogus allegations, including that the staff neglected children, which constituted defamation.

Although staff complained to Google, it refused to take the reviews down and said that do so would be a violation of free speech. (Source:

That led to a court case, with a judge not only agreeing to order Google to remove the reviews, but also demanding Google hand over contact details listed for the account. These must include any personal information provided when setting up the account, even details listed as not for public display.

Google Must Hand Over IP Addresses

Google must also provide the IP addresses used to make the posts. These don't always identify an individual with certainty, but can usually identify the computer or other device used to get online in order to post the reviews.

The judge wasn't looking at the issue of any compensation for damage caused by the reviews themselves, so Google's only penalty is a small sum to cover court costs. It's now up to the daycare center to decide whether to pursue the review writers if and when Google's information identifies them.

The daycare center's lawyer told TechCrunch this wasn't an issue of courts cracking down on people's right to leave negative reviews based on honest opinion. Instead he said Google had failed to act despite clear evidence that the reviewers had breached its terms and conditions by using false identities, including posing as a Dutch parent but using a photograph of an American woman who died in 2006. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Should Google have taken down the reviews after the complaint? Was the court right to order the reviews taken down? Was the court right to make Google hand over the details of the reviewers?

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Dennis Faas's picture

There's nothing worse than online spam - whether it's email spam, forum spam, and especially fake reviews used to degrade a certain product or boost relevancy of another. I'm not sure what precedence this will have on future cases, but I'm glad that the daycare was able to win this case and fight back against the scammers posting bogus reviews.

dan_2160's picture

Fake reviews are the bane of every retail and service industry. has long been filled with "fake" reviews that book publishers and authors get posted by their employees and friends to bolster the books. That has extended to other products and services as well. It is amazing how the negative reviews of some products are so similar -- you can't help but think that a rival manufacturer is getting the negative reviews posted.

The thing is, this is nothing new. Check out the incredibly favorable quotes on book jackets -- now and 20 or 30 years ago. The authors of those quotes are almost always good friends of the book's author who have been asked to provide a glowing endorsement. During the 20 years I published career books (my own and some written by others), I saw this happen dozens of times. We declined to participate in such deception. Maybe that's one of the reasons we left book publishing 10 years ago (actually it was because was destroying the nonfiction book market with the deep discounts it demands from small publishers who will rarely, if ever, sell the very high volume of copies needed to make a profit with such huge discounts to -- we're talking 55% discounts instead of the normal 40%).

matt_2058's picture

This is so widespread it's pathetic. My wife worked for a dentist that had a slow and low volume practice. The main office body decided to do a "Living Social" special. Overnight this guy went from almost no online presence and near obscurity to the most loved and experienced dentist in the area. Some even claimed procedures they didn't do in the office. All that lying to drive sales up...and to try to get another round of participation in the scam.

Endorsements are bought everyday, but creating them from from non-existent people are inexcusable.