Review portals on the Internet such as Yelp are allowed to sort their reviews with automated software. This was decided by the BGH, based on freedom of occupation and freedom of expression.
The lower instance, the Munich Higher Regional Court, had given the fitness studio operator right. But the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) overturned this judgment and, with its decision, strengthened the rights of rating portals – significantly. On portals such as Yelp, consumers can rate and grade hotels, restaurants or craft businesses. An overall grade is then created with these ratings.
This turned out to be comparatively bad for the woman who had complained. The basis for the overall grade, which ranges from one to five stars, were only very few individual ratings. Most of the assessments that were positive were not taken into account. They were automatically sorted out by software. An absurdity, says the studio operator: "It bothers me that Yelp filters out the good reviews. I would normally have four to 4.5 stars in all studios. We do a good job, and that doesn’t reflect what we’re doing."
Fake reviews should be filtered
On the other hand, Yelp believes it is necessary that not all reviews are included in the overall rating. It is also about filtering out fake reviews with the help of an algorithm, according to the portal’s lawyer, Stephan Zimprich. From the consumer’s point of view, it is "absolutely important that there is a mechanism on the Internet, where there are also a lot of purchased reviews, which separates the good from the bad". Yelp decided to program an algorithm for this. This tries to achieve this goal.
The BGH has now approved such a procedure. Review portals like Yelp can sort out individual reviews according to certain criteria. That is legal, so Dietlind Weinland, press judge of the BGH.
“The German Federal Supreme Court ruled that this is covered by freedom of expression. Yelp does not rate the company itself, it rates the reviews. In terms of posts, it selects which reviews it considers helpful and which it does not Prevent manipulation. "
Criteria do not have to be disclosed
The rating portals can determine the criteria according to which individual contributions are sorted out. After the decision of the BGH, you do not have to disclose the criteria. It is also permissible if – as with Yelp – an automated software takes over the sorting, in which a certain algorithm has been programmed, says Weinland. "When exercising freedom of expression, it does not matter whether the evaluation is carried out with the help of an algorithm or whether a large number of people check the individual evaluations."
The BGH had already strengthened the rights of the platform operator in earlier decisions, for example on the Jameda doctor evaluation portal.
Even today, the judges made it clear: Entrepreneurs have to put up with the fact that they are viewed critically on the Internet. The platforms must behave neutrally and may not give preferential treatment to individual companies.