There’s troubling news in Japan today, after Google was told to delete two critical customer reviews from its Google Maps service.
The Chiba District Court today issued a preliminary injunction forcing the U.S. internet company to remove two anonymous reviews for an undisclosed medical clinic in the country. While they document negative customer experiences at the clinic, neither review violates the policies that Google has in place for user generated content within the Maps service.
Today’s decision is based on a defamation suit from the clinic, a key part of which included an affidavit from the doctor who interacted with the anonymous reviewers and denied their claims.
The court ruled that Google not only removes the content in Japan, but across the entire globe too.
In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Google said it is “considering our options” — that could very well include an appeal of the ruling. [Update: Google confirmed that it will lodge an appeal — see bottom of the post for its statement.]
“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,” the company added.
Removal of any kind of public content is troubling, particularly when the process behind it appears to be little more than an on-record denial. If feedback regarding medical professionals — who are tasked with saving lives and healing — is that easily scrubbed from the web, then there is valid concern that this ruling will enable businesses or individuals on the wrong end of legitimately negative reviews to have them removed.
Google has run into a number of privacy and speech snafus in Japan in recent times. Last year, a Japanese court ordered it to delete search results that linked a man to a crime. Back in 2012, the company was ordered to amend its auto-complete feature after it was adjudged to infringe upon Japanese privacy laws.
Update: Google confirmed it will appeal the injunction:
We’ve reviewed this preliminary injunction, compelling us to remove negative reviews displayed on Google Maps about a medical clinic in Japan, and we plan to appeal. 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, positive and negative, are a critical tool for people to give and read direct feedback about businesses.