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Google forced by French justice to reveal the identity of two people accused of “false opinions”

The European headquarters of the American giant was ordered by the Dijon Court of Appeal to lift the anonymity of two Internet users who published ratings on Google Maps concerning a guest house.

On the Internet, it is possible that opinions on products or services are false, coming from people who have never used them. In France, two people are rightly accused of having issued “fake reviews” about Château de Balleure, a guest house, on Google Maps. These poor ratings (two stars out of five and one out of five) had been published without comment in 2018 and 2020. The Dijon Court of Appeal recently condemned the European headquarters of Google – based in Ireland – to lift the anonymity of these two Internet users, AFP revealed on July 19.

Acting in summary proceedings, she ordered the company to give their identity and contact details, but also to pay the legal costs, as well as 2,000 euros to the guest house. The Court of Appeal considers that the Château de Balleure has a “legitimate reason” to obtain from Google any element making it possible to identify the author or authors of these disputed notes. This, in order to be able to determine, during a later trial, if they came from people who were not customers of the guest house.

A lack of adequate controls on Google Maps

The Château de Balleure considers that these two opinions were ” fake “ given that they were broadcast by people who had never attended the establishment. “The most likely hypothesis results from the feature called Google Maps push”, explained Raoul Salama, owner of the guest house. According to him, this function invites users of the service passing around an accommodation or a restaurant to give their opinion, “but without putting in place adequate controls that would ensure that these Internet users have actually used the establishment’s services”.

Planning to sue Google on the merits, he also accuses the American giant of not having respected several legislative texts, like the European Omnibus directive. Entering into force at the end of May, it aims to improve the protection of European consumers on the Internet and prohibits “to assert that opinions on a product are distributed by consumers who have actually used or purchased the product without having taken the necessary measures to verify it”.

Questioned by AFP, Google referred to the rules of its application according to which “contributions must be based on real experiences and information”. The text also specifies that deliberately false content, personal attacks or unnecessary or incorrect content are prohibited. Note that France is not the only country where the Mountain View firm is facing problems for fake reviews. For more than a year, the UK Competition Authority has been investigating her and Amazon, fearing that the two companies “don’t do enough to fight fake reviews on their sites”.

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