A German court has ruled today that Amazon’s ‘share’ functionality, which encourages users to promote links to products that they have just purchased via email or social networks, is unlawful.
The feature in question becomes available after online purchase is concluded, and provides means for customers to publicise their buys via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest – and, most controversially, email.
The court said today that that such email missives, sent without the permission of the recipient, constitute “unsolicited advertising and unreasonable harassment”.
Today’s decision ratifies an earlier one made at a lower court in Arnsberg, and concludes a case which one of Amazon’s competitors brought against an Amazon reseller.
The ruling echoes the findings of a much older case in which a panel at Germany’s Federal Court of Justice ruled that Facebook’s ‘Friend Finder’ feature, wherein Facebook members can use tools provided by the social network to reach out to promote content and services which would require the non-members to sign up, was deemed to provide inadequate privacy protection for participants. The Facebook case was brought in 2012 by German federal consumer organisation Verbraucherzentrale Bundesver (VZBV).
Amazon do not make available any metrics regarding the take-up of the ‘share’ feature. Social network shares which originate from it could perhaps be determined by research – though not the number of customers which have taken advantage of the email functionality. It seems reasonable to guess that take-up for Amazon email shares is very low, however, since it’s not a ‘one-click’ procedure, no matter how many baked-in subject lines and content are injected into the links.
Anyone with ten or more years’ experience of using the internet is likely wary of this kind of ‘burn a buddy’ functionality which commercial sites often provide, since involving the email addresses of unknown parties in a commercial site’s automated processes is a prime opportunity to put the unsuspecting target on another marketing map.
Few details have been made clear about the extent to which today’s decision has been underpinned by the directly commercial ambit of Amazon. The ability to painlessly share content is ubiquitous across – for instance – news outlets (see the buttons above and below this post), and clicking on those promotes the originating sites’ interests. Is there really any difference? Or does the neutral content in transit absolve such sharing of any accusation of commercial abuse?