19 April 2024

Japanese doctors demand damages from Google over ‘groundless’ reviews

19 April 2024

A group of Japanese doctors have filed a civil lawsuit against US search giant Google, demanding damages for what they claim are unpoliced, derogatory and often false comments.

The lawsuit, filed in Tokyo District Court, demands 1.4 million yen (£7,276) in damages for 63 medical professionals – a symbolic amount, intended to highlight the potential dangers of Google’s technology.

Google said it is working “24 hours a day” to reduce misleading or false information on its platform, combining human and technological resources “to delete fraudulent reviews”.

We don't agree that the platform shares no responsibility

The lawsuit claims groundless negative reviews have been posted on Google Maps, a very popular app in Japan, that allows people to write in ratings of various institutions and their personal reviews.

Some comments are irresponsible and appear to be written out of spite, and the “word of mouth” remarks take on a life of their own and are nearly impossible to refute, according to the lawsuit.

It said Google has done very little to fix the problem, despite complaints.

Yuichi Nakazawa, who leads the legal team for the plaintiffs, told reporters: “The damage suffered is substantial, and the people have been powerless to fight back.

“We don’t agree that the platform shares no responsibility.”

Some Japanese people say they rely on what people say online about hospitals, including how long the wait was or what kind of care they got, rather than official sites.

But those online comments may be inaccurate and even detrimental to health care, those behind the lawsuit say.

Japan boasts a relatively widespread and affordable health care system, making the medical sector a hot topic in one of the fastest aging societies in the world.

Class actions are relatively rare in Japan, though Google has been sued in the US and various other nations, accused of misleading advertising, violations of privacy and other problems.

Earlier this month, Google agreed to purge billions of records containing personal information collected from more than 136 million people in America who had surfed the internet through its Chrome web browser.

That was part of a settlement in a US lawsuit that had accused Google of illegal surveillance.

The lawsuit in Japan is intended to highlight the potential dangers from Google’s technology, the lawyers for the medical professionals say.

The damages they are seeking are symbolic, about 23,000 yen (£120) per plaintiff.

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