Confidentiality Keeps Doctors From Refuting Bad Reviews; Google Maps Says It Won’t Delete Them Without Court Order

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A post that reads “I was turned away at the door” appears on a review site for Google Maps.

Medical clinics have been struggling to get Google to remove negative reviews that appear on Google Maps because it is difficult for doctors to refute the reviewers’ claims as they are under an obligation to keep patients’ medical information confidential.

Doctors in Japan who have been the target of negative posts in the reviews section of Google Maps have decided to try to hold Google LLC of the United States accountable in the judicial arena. They intend to seek improvement in the Google Maps system through the lawsuit.

A doctor among the plaintiffs, who runs a medical clinic in Tokyo, said that the clinic received a Google Maps posting that read, “I was turned away at the door.” The lowest rating, a “1” on a five-point scale, was displayed with the comment.

In theory, the doctor could try to persuade map viewers that the review is untrue by writing a rebuttal. However, it is difficult to actually do so because a doctor is required to maintain confidentiality about a patient’s medical information.

He asked Google to erase the review, but the company has not taken it down, saying it needs a court order to remove the post.

Google never asked him if he wanted his clinic on the map. “I can’t accept that we are forced to handle the matter while Google has put [my clinic] on the map without asking me,” he said.

The clinic also received a brochure from a company that, for a fee, promises to remove posted reviews with low ratings and replace them with reviews giving high ratings.

The doctor also felt that Google Maps encouraged malicious behavior, such as by those who post bad reviews to extract a fee to have the posts removed, he said.

When he looked at the review sections of other medical clinics on Google Maps, he found comments that appeared to be defamatory, such as: “[Name redacted] Clinic is a killer hospital. Go bankrupt,” and “[The clinic] used me as a test subject and gave me experimental stitches.”

Believing that Google should be held accountable for neglecting the problem, he established the Google reviews victims group and invited other doctors who had been similarly victimized online to join the lawsuit. About 60 doctors joined the lawsuit.

“There is a risk that everyone will be unfairly victimized, and we would like Google to take fundamental measures to address this issue,” he said.

There is also a court decision in the nation holding that a review displayed on Google Maps violated a medical institution’s rights.

In that case, an eye clinic in Chiba Prefecture filed a lawsuit against Google to demand disclosure of the poster’s information, claiming that its reputation had been damaged by an anonymous negative review on Google Maps.

The post read, “My child was misdiagnosed here and wasted three years.” The Tokyo District Court ruled in October last year that “it is hard to believe that the clinic made a misdiagnosis, so the post violated the clinic’s rights.” The court ordered Google to disclose the poster’s information.

The government plans to strengthen measures against online slander and defamation.

The government has submitted a bill to the Diet to amend the Provider Liability Limitation Law, which would require service providers to publicly announce their criteria for deleting posts. If the bill is passed into law, a user who requests the deletion of a post will be notified of the platform’s decision within a certain period.