Doctors in Japan are suing Google Maps over negative comments


About 60 doctors in Japan have accused Google Maps of ignoring vitriolic comments from their clinics – a lawsuit billed as the first of its kind.

The medics are demanding 1.4 million yen ($9 000 and approximately R173 000) in total damages from Google in an attempt to hold the American technology titan liable for a lack of action towards the reviews.

They sued the company on Thursday, saying they are powerless to respond to – or refute – the damaging reviews because of their obligation to patient confidentiality.

“People who post online can say anything anonymously, even if it’s nothing but slander or verbal abuse,” one of the doctors told reporters.

“It’s like I’m a punching bag,” he said on condition of anonymity.

The case at the District Court in Tokyo is believed to be the first class action in Japan targeting a platform over negative online reviews, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said.

“Despite the ease with which they are posted, it is extremely difficult to remove the reviews,” lawyer Yuichi Nakazawa told AFP.

“This can lead to doctors having to work under the constant fear of potentially abusive reviews.”

The aim of medical institutions is not to satisfy patients, but to deal with their illnesses from a professional point of view, says the plaintiffs’ complaint.

“Clinics that only give patients a random diagnosis and prescribe medicine as requested will be medically inappropriate.”

The nature of the work can also sometimes make doctors susceptible to online attacks by patients who harbor a grudge, plaintiffs argued.

If the situation is not addressed, doctors “may hesitate to be firm and refuse medically unnecessary examinations or medicines requested by patients”. This ultimately does society an injustice, Nakazawa warned.

According to the complaint, Google Maps is so widely used in Japan that it serves as “infrastructure” for daily life.

“Google should therefore be able to ‘easily recognize’ the disadvantages for medical companies if unfair reviews are not addressed.”

The plaintiffs acknowledged that Google removes some Maps reviews under its own guidelines, but the criteria for removal are opaque and “few of them end up being removed,” they claimed.

Google told AFP it was making efforts to reduce inaccurate and misleading content on Google Maps.

“With the combination of human operators and computers, we protect the profile of businesses 24 hours a day and unfair reviews do get removed,” the company said.