Karlsruhe (dpa) - Internet reviews can help decide the success of companies such as restaurants or sports providers. What rules does a rating portal like Yelp have to follow?

An entrepreneur who runs fitness studios in the Munich area feels that she has been treated unfairly because many positive reviews for the overall grade were not taken into account. For the first time, the judges of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) now judge in such a case. (Az. VI ZR 495/18 and others)

"My studios suffer from it," said the applicant Renate Holland at the trial in Karlsruhe last November. «And I don't let my good work and my life's work be ruined. They don't know their own algorithm, »says the 67-year-old former bodybuilding world champion.

On Yelp, users can rate restaurants, service providers and shops - and also gyms. One star is to be awarded ("Boah, it doesn't work!") To five stars ("Wow! It couldn't be better!"), And you can also write a text. However, not all assessments are included in the overall assessment. Automated software identifies the “recommended reviews” that Yelp considers particularly helpful or authentic.

According to Yelp, the selection criteria include, for example, the quality, trustworthiness and previous activity of the user. Favorability assessments and counterfeits should be sorted out using the filter. But it also affects contributions from customers who are not well known and therefore do not recommend.

According to Yelp lawyer Stephan Zimprich, other providers do the same. It is important that there is a mechanism that separates the good from the bad. "Otherwise, the consumer would be vulnerable to manipulation on the Internet."

On average, about three-quarters of all reviews would be rated as recommended, Yelp explains. Not so with Renate Holland: one of her studios had 2.5 stars in February 2014 based on only two reviews. 74 mostly very positive contributions are disregarded. Posts that Yelp does not recommend can be read. To do this, the user must scroll down the page and click a link there. Usually she would have 4 to 4.5 stars in every studio, Holland said.

The plaintiff had been right before the Munich Higher Regional Court. By sorting out many reviews, the judges judged and awarded their damages rather than a helpful overall picture. They prohibit Yelp from continuing to rate its studios according to the previous procedure.

Holland's BGH lawyer Axel Rinkler is all about transparency. "You are completely exposed to these ratings," he criticizes. The algorithm that determines the selection of contributions is a business secret - and therefore cannot be checked by those affected.

In fact, Yelp only makes a few criteria public. There is no other way, says lawyer Zimprich. "If I know how to filter, I can ensure that even manipulated posts are manipulated in such a way that they get through the filter."

For the head of the Digital Law business unit at EY Law, Stefan Krüger, who is observing the case, the crucial point is when an assessment becomes a portal's own opinion. "It becomes a complicated legal matter because Yelp does more than just publish the individual reviews of the users." In his opinion, the judgment should not, however, send a very large signal to the industry of the rating portals because it is tailor-made for the case of Yelp will.

For Holland it is a fight between David and Goliath. «You are at the mercy of them. Today everything is evaluated and everyone is guided by it - including me when I go out to eat. "They not only fight for themselves and their gyms -" but also for other, small companies that may not have the resources to approach themselves fight back. "