Court stops Google search favouritism of German Ministry of Health

by RA Dr. Christian Seyfert, LL.M. (San Francisco, GGU)

On Wednesday February 10th, 2021, the Munich Regional Court provisionally prohibited the cooperation between the German federal government and private internet company Google in regards to boosted search results of health information. While the judgments are not yet final, as of now the judges presiding over the case issued two injunctions against the Bundesrepublik and Google.

The decision was determined as an antitrust violation, where market competition for health information portals was restricted. According to the court, the violation came into play when Google searches for diseases are automatically linked in the primary position to content from the Ministry of Health’s website. As a result, private health portals would be at a disadvantage to the government’s influence over search results.

 

The backstory

Since the end of 2020, users searching on Google for diseases have been redirected to Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn’s national health web portal, . Normally, search results delivered on Google are based on a series of algorithms that “meet high standards of relevance and quality”, according to their official page, and various factors including quality of content, usability, and relevance are taken into account.

However, it has come to light that the Ministry of Health indirectly subsidized the boosting of the search results for such health information search terms.

Observing this advantage taken by the government, the media group Hubert Burda Media filed a lawsuit against both the German Federal Government and Google.

 

The repercussions 

Atty. Dr. Christian Seyfert applauded the court’s decision: “This decision by the Court is good news for the protection and upholding of free speech in Germany, as well as the continued separation of state and the free press. Ultimately, the diversity of media and free speech on the internet is at stake. Reining in the government and online giants like Google is sometimes necessary – as in this case – to guarantee fundamental rights like free speech and freedom of the press.” As a result, the cooperation between the world’s largest search engine and the German Ministry of Health has been put on hold for the time being.

As this judgment has only been delivered by an interim injunction, we will have to see how the situation plays out in the main court proceeding that is likely soon to come.

 

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