WhatsApp - Terms of Service
Welcome to Whatsapp.com! Step one, choose a preferred language for a more personalized experience. That is, unless you are looking for the Terms of Service (ToS). Although being one of the most important elements of this messenger service, they are provided in English only. The Berlin Court on 8 April 2016 rendered the ToS invalid, requesting WhatsApp to adjust to their German-speaking users.
Background of the case
The dissatisfaction with WhatsApp´s ToS started two years ago when the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesrepublik, VZBV) had taken the Facebook-owned message service provider to the Berlin Municipal Court, claiming they are violating German law. They said the Terms and Services (German: Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen, AGB) were in English only, and therefore not understandable to German citizens. Also, they lacked a German representative in the country, as the only way to contact WhatsApp was via email. The Court ruled in their favor (case 15 O 44/13), asking WhatsApp to translate their Terms of Service. WhatsApp appealed soon after, taking the case to a higher-instance court.
Decision of the Court and its consequences
The Kammergericht, the highest state court for the state of Berlin, upheld the previous decision on 8 April 2016 (case 5 U 156/14). They ordered WhatsApp to define an alternative way of contacting the company apart from the provided email form in order to conform to the German Telemedia Act. Also, WhatsApp will have to translate their ToS into German. The judge said that although many Germans do speak English, this is specialized, legal English, which is harder to understand for the average citizen. And if incomprehensible, the ToS are ineffective and invalid. In case WhatsApp decides not to oblige, it is facing a fine up to 250 000 EUR or a six-month imprisonment of their CEO. It is yet to be seen if WhatsApp will file an appeal to the German Supreme Court.
This ruling has two major impacts. The first one targets WhatsApp itself. Their ToS are in English only and their webpage is offered in over fifty languages. If their wish is to provide equal service to all of their users, it is to be expected they provide translations.
The second impact is external, including all other companies following WhatsApp´s practice. The VZBV showed they will not tolerate such behavior and that they will have to put the safety of their users first.
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