Online reviews are an essential part of business success these days. They shape a company’s reputation, influence the decisions of potential customers, and can even affect search engine visibility. Therefore, it can be particularly damaging when competitors use unfair tactics and give blanket 1-star ratings.

In this blog post, we will address this burning issue: Are blanket 1-star reviews of competitors anti-competitive? And what can companies do to defend themselves against these unfair practices?

Customer reviews have a major influence on the purchasing decisions of many consumers and are therefore of great importance for online retailers. It is understandable that online retailers want to prevent dubious and untrue negative reviews in particular in order to counteract possible damage to their reputation. The Cologne Higher Regional Court has now ruled (judgment of 23.12.2022 – 6 U 83/22) that a 1-star rating on Google by a competitor with whom no business or legal relationship existed is unlawful. Mere contact is not sufficient for this.

The plaintiff party operates an IT system house, while the defendant party is an IT company. The latter sent e-mails to employees of the plaintiff with a participation link and further information about an event offered by the defendant on the subject of Internet security. The plaintiff denied that its employees had registered for this event. After the event took place, the plaintiff’s managing director successfully requested information under the GDPR about stored data from the defendant. Shortly thereafter, the defendant rated the plaintiff on Google with one out of five possible stars, without providing any further information in the rating.

Following an unsuccessful warning, the plaintiff brought an action before the competent Regional Court of Cologne, which took the view that no extraneous criticism could be discerned in the statement, as the assessment was in connection with a professional contact between the defendant and the plaintiff. The plaintiff then successfully appealed to the Cologne Higher Regional Court.

Competitive relationship in the case of restraint of competition

At the outset, the court stated that the facts of the case should be examined in accordance with the provisions of the UWG. The protection of competitors under Sec. 4 No. 1 UWG includes criticism between competitors. In order to ensure effective individual protection under competition law, the requirements for an existing competitive relationship should not be set too high. It was sufficient if the parties competed with each other through the specific act objected to.

Concrete customer relationship is required

The Senate further stated that a rating of one out of five possible stars constitutes a derogatory value judgment pursuant to Sec. 4 para. 1 UWG. Contrary to the opinion of the lower court, a concrete customer or legal relationship between the parties was necessary. Only in this case can the assessment be correctly classified by the circles addressed and achieve value in opinion formation.

1-star rating on Google is a sweeping disparaging value judgment

The assessment complained of is essentially untrue and therefore sweepingly derogatory. Pure star ratings of business services would not be regarded by the addressed public as mere expressions of opinion, but rather as a subjective assessment of a service actually used. The fact that a service of the company was obtained was precisely the message content of a star rating without comment. General disparagements without explanation of concrete circumstances are therefore to be classified as inadmissible defamatory criticism, according to the court.

Following this, the court found that the professional contact did not constitute an apparent basis for the assessment. In particular, it was not the services that were evaluated, but circumstances that had no connection with the applicant’s offer.


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