Legal cases usually take years because of appeal after appeal. But when they reach the highest court of the land, judgment is, more often than not, really final. That might be the case here with Facebook‘s ongoing, and now probably over, tussle in German courts over its Friend Finder feature. Now that the country’s highest court, the Federal Court of Justice, has declared it illegal, there isn’t much left for Facebook to do except to recoup its losses and to move forward. Without that feature in Germany, that is.
By now, what Friend Finder does is probably a normal part of social networking, which might also hint at how numb we’ve become to such issues. In 2010, however, things were different, which is why the Federation of German Consumer Organisations or VZBV, Germany’s consumer advocacy association, filed the complaint. It alleged that Facebook didn’t make it clear to users that it would import the user’s address book and crawl through it in order to advertise Facebook’s service.
It almost seemed that Facebook would win the case. In 2012, the Administrative Court of Appeals of the State of Schleswig-Holstein ruled that Facebook is absolved of wrongdoing as its data processing is protected by Irish law, not German ones. In 2014, however, the Higher Court of Berlin reversed that decision and declared the feature as illegal under German protection laws.
Now Germany’s highest court has upheld that ruling. It agreed with the VZBV that it constituted advertising harassment. It ruled that it was a deceptive marketing practice that violated the country’s data protection and unfair trade practice laws. The court also pointed out how Facebook failed to inform its own users on such a use of their contact list.
The consequences of this ruling has still to be seen. No fine has been mentioned yet. As for Facebook, it awaits formal notification of the ruling and will see how it will aversely (or not) affect its services.