Deleting negative online reviews in Germany
Objectives of deleting a negative online review in Germany
Deleting your negative review will restore your online reputation.
We assess the likelihood of success of the procedure to have your negative review removed free of charge. Only after a successful assessment do you instruct us to delete the review. If there is no chance of success, you will not incur any costs.
Most reviews are removed immediately after the first legal letter.
We take care of having your review deleted. You are free to focus on your business.
Removing a negative review step by step
Guidelines of portals and search engines for deleting and removing reviews
Online reviews are becoming more and more important for decision-making by customers, patients, guests or buyers. They ask themselves questions like:
- Is the food at the restaurant good?
- Is the doctor thorough?
- What is customers’ experience with this tradesman?
- Is the hotel clean?
- Is the product or service suitable for my requirements?
Review portals in all sectors
Different review portals are used in different industries:
- Google, Facebook, Yelp – general – all sectors
- Amazon, eBay – mainly trade with goods
- Jameda, DocInsider, Sanego – doctor reviews
- Tripadvisor, Holidaycheck – hotel reviews
- Kununu – employer reviews
Findability of reviews
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. are often used first to search for a product or service. The search results deliver providers or links to review portals. Review portals give the user various rating options. These are not unproblematic. Negative reviews for products or services can be damaging to business and deter customers from buying or using a service.
Basic permissibility of reviews on Internet portals
Many clients first want to know whether they have to allow themselves to be reviewed online at all. In many cases you will find an entry for your company in a portal, although you have not registered it. In 2009 and 2014, the BGH decided that doctors, companies or self-employed persons must allow themselves to be reviewed on public review portals (“Spickmich” ruling VI ZR 196/08 and VI ZR 358/13). Reviews are protected by freedom of expression according to Article 5 of the German constitution (GG). However, reviews must be removed if they infringe the guidelines of the portal or your right of personality (Article 2(1) GG in conjunction with Article 1(1) GG).
Deletion and removal procedures and policies
In order to exclude untrue or insulting and thus bad reviews, and to guarantee a high standard for their users, Internet portals have developed procedures and set up corresponding guidelines. There are commonalities between the individual portals.
As a law firm specialising in reputation law, we support our clients in removing these reviews.
Submitting negative reviews on Internet portals
In order to give a bad review, portals often require users to create an account, which is usually free of charge. Ratings often consist of stars (1 star = worst, maximum number of stars = best) and the option to write and leave a review about the experience.
Internal removal and deletion guidelines of review portals
The internal guidelines of the portals usually prohibit:
- Illegal content: All portals prohibit illegal reviews. This is the most common reason for the deletion of negative online reviews. They are untrue or insulting (“abusive criticism”) and violate the general right of personality applicable in Germany (Article 2(1) GG in conjunction with Article 1(1) GG).
- Advertising: Bad reviews made solely for advertising purposes are not allowed by most portals.
- Netiquette: Review portals usually do not allow offensive or hurtful wording, or personal attacks on other people.
- Conflicts of interest: Reviews of one’s own company are also generally not permitted. Paid (positive or negative) reviews are usually not tolerated by portals (“fake news”).
- Identity theft: Internet portals mostly do not allow reviews in the name of other people or under a false name.
When removing and deleting a review, we proceed according to a dual strategy: We justify removal by citing
- violation of the portal’s guidelines and additionally
- infringement of the general right of personality.
This puts portals under more pressure.
Contact with a portal operator
In most cases, it is difficult to establish contact with an Internet portal yourself. Even finding the responsible contact person is not straightforward. In the case of Google, for example, Google Germany GmbH based in Hamburg is not the correct point of contact. Although the company represents Google in Germany, it is not the operator of the Google My Business service. Therefore, we directly contact the operator’s body responsible for legal issues – in the case of Google, Google Inc., which is based in the United States – with a legal request (“notice-and-take-down letter”).
Legal protection against unjustified reviews in Germany
A negative online review can affect anyone:
- entrepreneurs such as e-commerce operators, restaurants, hotels, caterers and tradesmen,
- freelancers such as doctors, architects and tax consultants, or
- private individuals such as teachers and professors.
BGH: Reviews on review portals are generally permitted
Clients often ask whether they have to tolerate reviews at all. The BGH generally permits reviews (BGH “Spickmich” ruling of 23/06/2009 – VI ZR 196/18 and ruling of 23/09/2014 – VI ZR 358/13). It decided that doctors, companies and self-employed people must in principle allow themselves to be evaluated on public review portals because they generally also offer their services to the public. However, this ruling does not mean that all reviews have to be tolerated. Those concerned still have the option of taking action against illegal online reviews.
Prohibited and negative reviews that are to be removed
Bad online reviews are prohibited and can be removed if they
- violate the general right of personality of the reviewee (Article 2(1) GG in conjunction with Article 1(1) GG) and
- are not protected by the freedom of expression (Article 5 GG).
This will protect both
- private persons, entrepreneurs or freelancers themselves (natural persons) and
- companies and firms including GmbHs, UGs and GmbH & Co. KGs (legal persons) according to the German Federal Constitutional Court (BVerfG).
Precedence of the entrepreneur’s interest
A negative review must be removed if your interest in an intact personality outweighs the author’s interest in freedom of expression. The following criteria are weighed against each other:
- wording of the bad review (how harsh is the review?),
- context in which the review was made (is the author concerned with the portrayal of their experience or with denigration and abuse?),
- how an objective third party would understand the portrayal,
- which so-called protected sphere was invaded – a distinction must be made as to whether the statement refers to intimate (intimate sphere – always forbidden), private (private sphere – often forbidden) or public (social sphere – mostly permitted) conditions, facts or circumstances, and
- particularly important, the distinction between expression of opinion and factual claims – opinions are more eligible for protection.