A Japanese court has ordered Google to take down negative business reviews

A potentially dangerous precedent.
A potentially dangerous precedent.
Image: Reuters
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Google was ordered by a Japanese court today to take down anonymous negative business reviews of a medical clinic, written by people who said they were former patients. The decision is the latest sign of the spread of the “right to be forgotten” concept from Europe to Asia.

The case pitted a Japanese medical clinic against the search engine, Japan’s largest. The plaintiff, an unnamed doctor, said in a signed affidavit that the reviews complaining of poor service were false, one person briefed on the case said.

In the ruling, which was not made public but was reviewed by Quartz, Chiba District Court court ruled that Google must remove the reviews from its local and global search results, or face a ¥300,000 ($2,494) fine.

Google spokesman Taj Meadows said in an emailed comment:

We’re considering our options on this preliminary injunction, based on a defamation claim from a medical clinic in Japan over negative reviews displayed on Google Maps. While we provide tools that allow business owners to respond to reviews, and we take down posts that violate our policies, we believe online reviews are a critical tool for people to give and read direct feedback about businesses.

Google is expected to appeal the ruling, but overturning such decisions is rare in Japan.

While the case only refers to a specific instance and business, the precedent it sets could be particularly dangerous, because Japanese laws about internet privacy and available information are unspecific, giving court decisions have an outsized impact.

Last year, Tokyo’s District Court ordered Google to remove (paywall) references to a Japanese man’s past from the company’s search engine results, because they were considered a violation of his privacy and “he felt his life was endangered by the results that came up,” the Wall Street Journal reported.