It’s possible to win against Google

30 August 2019


In the far south of Germany on the shores of idyllic Lake Tegernsee in the Bavarian Alps is the “Bräustüberl,” or “Little Brewery.” It’s a cozy place. The building was constructed as a Benedictine monastery in the year 746 AD. Beer has been served there since 1675. A jetty provides a view of the water. Rustic wooden chairs with heart shapes carved into their backs stand under the vaulted ceiling. Innkeeper and host Peter Hubert offers the following invitation on the restaurant’s website: “Locals and tourists, old and young, cheerful and introspective — and of course, hungry and thirsty: Bräustüberl welcomes them all.”


But on November 25, 2017, the coziness was abruptly interrupted. Customers told Hubert that they had googled the restaurant — and that he should be glad they’d come at all, because a diagram with blue columns had appeared on their smartphones that said:


“Live: Very busy. Normal waiting times up to one hour and 45 minutes.”


But at least 20 tables were free.


The innkeeper looked online for a phone number at which to reach Google; he only found an email address. So he wrote emails explaining that the information about his inn was false and bad for his business. He wrote three times in six weeks but received no reply. The German news magazine Spiegel reported Hubert said he felt “as if I were sending messages into a black hole.”


But eventually, Google replied by email. They wrote that the information on their website about Bräustüberl couldn’t be changed, as the parameters of Google’s algorithm applied to the whole world. Pursuing the matter further, Hubert eventually reached a Google employee and the company’s office in Hamburg, Germany. According to Spiegel, this employee told Hubert: “The algorithm can’t be changed. The algorithm can’t be turned off.”


So Hubert sued Google. Google’s Hamburg office rejected the lawsuit issued by Munich’s district court, claiming not to be responsible and suggesting the innkeeper address the corporation’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. The district court summoned Google to a hearing. Google Germany mailed the summons back, refusing it. Yet on the morning of July 12, 2019, the blue columns had disappeared from the Google search results for the Bräustüberl — “as if,” Hubert said, “by magic.”


On August 28, 2019, a hearing was scheduled at Munich’s first district court to clarify whether Google Germany would be required to accept the lawsuit. But the hearing was canceled on short notice. The innkeeper issued a statement that Google had recognized the injunction and requested the cancelation of the hearing: “Bräustüberl has won!” he said. According to Spiegel Online, a Google spokesperson confirmed the cancelation. “We disabled the ‘waiting times’ function for the Tegernsee restaurant in July, as requested. We also recognized the legitimacy of the request to disable the function.”


But has Google understood the problem? Well, not really. The Google spokesman pointed out that the innkeeper was free to have the waiting times feature reactivated in the future.