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Court declares Facebook's 'friend finder' unlawful

Germany's highest court has declared Facebook's "friend finder" feature unlawful, confirming rulings of two lower courts.

A panel of the Federal Court of Justice ruled the promotional feature constituted advertising harassment in a case that was filed in 2010 by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZBV).

The Facebook feature invites users to grant it permission to harvest the e-mail addresses of friends or contacts in users' address books, in turn allowing the social network to send an invitation to non-users to join the social network.

The court concluded this was a deceptive marketing practice, confirming decisions by two lower courts in Berlin in 2012 and 2014, which had found Facebook had violated German laws on data protection and unfair trade practices.

The federal court also said Facebook had not adequately informed members about how it was using this data.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Facebook in Germany said it was waiting to receive the formal decision and would study the findings "to assess any impact on our services".

The VZBV welcomed the ruling and said in a statement that it will have implications for other services in Germany which use similar forms of advertising.

"What the judgment means exactly for the current friend finder, we now have to find out," said Klaus Mueller, head of the VZBV.

"In addition to Facebook, other services use this form of advertising to attract new users. They must now probably rethink," Mueller added.

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