Google negative reviews: Free Speech vs Data Protection

On April 12th, 2019, a court order from the judge of summary proceedings in Paris rejected a request to delete a dentist’s “Google myBusiness” page and the negative reviews that patients had published there. These pages are available through Google maps to users who search for any entity registered on it, varying from museums and stores to legal firms and fitness gyms.

The dentist argued that the webpage and its content were akin to an illegal processing of her personal data and a manifestly unlawful disturbance.

Although the judge first answered by confirming that the data used to identify a liberal professional was indeed personal, he ruled against ordering the removing of the webpage. He also highlighted that the only liable company in this case was Google LLC, as opposed to Google France which is not in charge of the “MyBusiness” service and as such cannot be considered as the data controller, according to the provisions of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

This solution seems to contradict a previous court order delivered by the same jurisdiction, which ruled to delete the “MyBusiness” sheet of another dentist for the sole reason that he expressed his will to have it removed and thus withdrew his consent[1]. It indeed seems questionable that a professional’s personal data could be freely processed by a third party with no other justification than their availability on business directories.

Regarding patients’ reviews on the dentist’s services, the Court ruled that “the consumer’s legitimate interest to be informed” allowed Google to link comments to a doctor’s identity and that the potential abuse of free speech should have been based on different legal grounds than the ones invoked by the claimant; specifically, the Press Act of 1881 (“loi du 29 juillet 1881 sur la presse”) in cases of defamation or insult[2] and Section 1240 of the French Civil Code regarding disparaging speech.

The plain and simple removal of the webpage where the comments were published, on the grounds of the 1978 “Digital Freedom” Act (“Loi Informatique et Libertés du 6 janvier 1978”) would represent a disproportionate breach of freedom of speech, at least when delivered by a judge of summary proceedings.


[1]TGI de Paris, summary proceeding order of April 6, 2018
[2]Further readings (in French)