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Internet services that specifically target German consumer, e.g. by addressing them in German, have to adhere to German law when doing so. In a default judgment, the regional court Berlin recently held that Whatsapp Inc. was violating German law (judgment of 9 May 2014, case no. 15 O 44/13). Whatsapp is providing its service and website in German. However, the terms and conditions were available in English only. Additionally, the service operator identification, required by Art. 5 of the E-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC), was not available at all. In order to comply with German law, Whatsapp will have to make its terms and conditions available in German and provide a service provider identification in German as well.

This judgment is part of a campaign by consumer watchdog Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V. (VZBV). The VZBV has obtained numerous decisions regarding the validity of terms and conditions of Internet services in light of binding German law in recent years. This also concerned terms and conditions which have been translated into German, but not adapted to German law.

Businesses should check legal requirements of consumer protection laws when targeting the German market. Most important are the following:

· Identification of the operator of the service;
· Translation of terms and conditions;
· Validity of terms and conditions under German law;
· Compliance with ecommerce (e.g. distance contracts) regulations;
· Privacy protection.

NB: that the new consumer protection regulations of the European Directive 2011/83/EU are in force as of 13 June 2014.

For questions regarding German legal issues, contact Andreas Lober at SCHULTE RIESENKAMPFF.
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