Facebook loses Friend Finder ruling in Germany

A German court has ruled against Facebook over terms and conditions of the company's Friend Finder service. Facebook says it will review the court's decision and react accordingly.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

German federal consumer organisation Verbraucherzentrale Bundesver (VZBV) today won a court claim against Facebook and the terms and conditions of its Friend Finder service. The State Court in Berlin supported the VZBV's complaint, which says the Friend Finder service encourages Facebook members to import the names and e-mail addresses of friends who are not Facebook members. VZBV chairman Gerd Billen said "the ruling is a milestone" for forcing Menlo Park and others to "respect data-protection rules in Europe."

"We will take a close look into the details of today's court decision as soon as they are available and then decide on the next steps," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "Facebook Ireland Ltd, which provides our service to people in Germany, is committed to adhering to European data protection principles as demonstrated by the recent report of the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner." For that report, see Facebook promises changes following Irish privacy audit.

The Berlin court found Facebook doesn't adequately inform its members that all e-mail addresses imported by its Friend Finder service will be used to contact others, even if they aren't Facebook users. The judges criticized the company saying users are tempted into disclosing their friends' names and e-mail addresses, resulting in their friends receiving an invitation to Facebook without ever giving the social network their e-mail address.

The court ruled Facebook must clearly inform its users that Friend Finder imports their entire e-mail address book to Facebook and is used for inviting friends. The fact that Facebook gets access to your entire e-mail list "is still not readily apparent" VZBV's Gerd Billen said. He also added that the group will be watching Facebook closely to see how the company changes its Friend Finder service. Facebook has already made changes but VZBV still isn't satisfied.

I have contacted VZBV for more information and will update you if I hear back.

Update on March 7: "The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv) has taken legal action against Facebook Ireland Limited for violation of German consumer and privacy law in November 2010," a VZBV spokesperson said in a statement. "The accusal includes several clauses in the company's terms and conditions as well as in the privacy policy. In addition, the functions of 'address book import' and the 'friendfinder' are in violation of German law against unfair commercial practice, as it is prohibited for a company to send e-mail to consumers without prior consent. Another problem with regard to these features is that also third-parties (e.g. providers of online games or greeting cards) receive not only the direct users’ data but also to the data of their associated 'friends' – without giving notice and prior consent. Please note that the legal action does not include the current versions of the 'friendfinder' and 'address book import', since these features have been adjusted by Facebook in the course of the legal action.

Yesterday (06.03.2012) the Regional Court of Berlin has ruled that Facebook's friendfinder and some of their terms and conditions are in violation of German consumer law. The court has decided that users have to be clearly informed that their entire address book will be imported to Facebook and used for invitations to friends. While the Facebook application in the meantime has been modified slightly, in our opinion it is still insufficient. Also the court has decided that the worldwide 'IP-License' that Facebook claims for any content that user upload to the platform is illegal. Rather the users have the copyright at their self-composed songs or their own pictures. Facebook can use these contents only with the consent of users. Furthermore the court has decided that the use of personal data for advertisement is not undertaken according to the law. In addition, Facebook has to ensure that users are informed in time when Facebook change their terms and conditions and/or their privacy policy. The vzbv calls on Facebook, finally accepting the consumer and data protection in Europe.

The judgement is without legal capacity yet. It is expected that Facebook will go to appeal."

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