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Doctor wins landmark legal case against rating website's ‘protection racket'

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Doctor wins landmark legal case against rating website's ‘protection racket'
Photo: DPA
17:14 CET+01:00
How neutral are websites which claim to inform us about the best deal on a particular purchase? That was a central question in a ruling by High Court judges on Tuesday in Karlsruhe.

A dermatologist from Cologne has taken the rating website Jameda all the way to the High Court over what her lawyer described as the “protection racket” it runs. On Tuesday she won the case.

Jameda provides a platform for doctors and dentists to describe the services they provide and also allows patients to rate the standard of the treatment they receive.

But the dermatologist argued that the website was far from neutral in the service it offered, favouring doctors who pay for “premium membership.”

Doctors who pay the website for a “premium packet” show up on the website with extra information and a photo next to their profile. Furthermore, while Jameda displays information about other doctors on the profiles of doctors who don't pay for membership, those who pay have profiles which provide no information about alternative options.

The High Court judges agreed with the doctor's argument and ruled that the website should meet her demand for her profile to be deleted.

“We are really happy that this ruling has put an end to Jameda's protection racket,” said the doctor's lawyer, Anja Wilkat.

Jameda had argued, based on a 2014 High Court ruling, that it was under no obligation to delete any doctor's profile. In that case the Karlsruhe court had decided that rating websites can publish reviews on any doctor's practice as long as the reviewing system is neutral.

Tuesday's ruling could open the way for more doctors to demand that their profiles be taken from the site, potentially seriously undermining Jameda's business model.

But Jameda insisted that it would not delete the Cologne doctor's profile. Instead it said it had taken immediate action to alter how profiles appear on the website so that non-paying doctors would no longer be compared against competitors on their profiles.

“We aren't expecting a flood of doctors demanding to leave," the company's CEO Florian Weiß said after the ruling.

The case could also have significant ramifications for other rating websites which have similar business models to that of Jameda.

“The ruling has made it clear that freedom of expression can't be used to justify every business model,” Paetrick Sakowski, an expert on competition law said. “The commercial use of data from doctors and other professionals has been set a decisive limit.”

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