A German Court Rules Amazon’s ‘Share’ Function is Illegal

11518754983_72734f2df8_hHere’s a crazy one for you.

A German court has declared unlawful a feature that encourages Amazon customers to share links to products of the online shop with their contacts, confirming the ruling of a lower court.

The Amazon “share” feature invites customers to share a product via email, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

The court said on Monday that sharing by email without approval of the recipient was illegal. It is “unsolicited advertising and unreasonable harassment,” the regional court in Hamm said, confirming the ruling of a lower court in Arnsberg.

The case was brought against one of Amazon’s resellers by a competitor. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling comes after Germany’s highest court ruled earlier this month that a similar feature that encourages Facebook users to market the social media network to their contacts as unlawful.

At the time, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZBV), which brought the Facebook case to court, had said the ruling would have implications for other services in Germany which use similar forms of advertising.


I can’t say that I have seen the email sharing option, although I have used the Twitter and Facebook sharing feature to spread the news about a good deal.

If the email feature worked the same way then I don’t see the issue, but if it instead scrapes your address book so you can email everyone, that would be a problem.

But I seriously doubt Amazon would let you use an email blast tool in their name; it would be bad marketing and they are generally not stupid. Has anyone seen one of these emails, or used the tool?

I haven’t found a first-hand report yet, not even in German.

(reporting by Harro ten Wolde; rditing by Mark Potter, image by wwarby)


  1. Christian Bennefeld25 January, 2016

    As a German I can clarify on the topic a bit. Here in Germany there is a law that businesses may not send unsolicited emails to a consumer.

    In this case amazon is sending unsolicited emails. Even if the emails are send on the intend of another user it’s still an unsolicited email from amazon. That’s probably why the highest court has prohibited such practices yet. And to add this: 99% of the German shops do not have a “recommend a friend by email” function for exactly this reason/law. Amazon was the last to learn that Germans enforce their law – if it’s hard to understand, it’s the law and Germans are quite strict with it. ;-))

    1. Nate Hoffelder25 January, 2016

      Thanks, Christian!

      In that case, I am surprised Amazon would have appealed the decision.

  2. Hannah Steenbock25 January, 2016

    Yes, seconding Christian here. Sending such email could be seen as unsolicited advertising by Amazon, even though the customer actually pushes the button.

    I’m still looking for a press release about this, and will let you know if I find something.

    1. Nate Hoffelder25 January, 2016

      Thanks, Hannah. Do you know why if law applies to just email, or does it also impact TW/FB sharing?

  3. Glinda Harrison25 January, 2016

    Very interesting story. Here in the US, I use this feature all the time. Of course, it is mostly sending products to my husband with a “Honey, what do you think about this note,” but still. Curious as to how this applies to say, news sites. Does this mean I also couldn’t use the share an email feature on a news story there? Would it still be illegal if there were no products being sold?

    1. Nate Hoffelder25 January, 2016

      @ Glinda

      Now that is an interesting complication.

  4. Anne25 January, 2016

    I have family members that use that particular feature all the time. Personally, I have never considered it a message from Amazon because it’s always been pretty clear who initiated the contact. The subject of every message is “xxxxxx wants you to see this item at Amazon.com”.

    I usually just send page links because I only sign in when I’m buying. I don’t particularly like the idea of Amazon knowing who I’m referring what to. I would hope page links would be ok even if the share feature isn’t.

  5. Ingo Lembcke25 January, 2016

    As a German I agree with Anne.
    Wether the law actually exists, I would have to research, but so far I have not found a German news item or a press release or whatever commenting. well I found an english Reuters Link:
    But as Reuters has been duped or hacked to release un-truth in the past (“cows dropping out of a plane, killing a fisherman”), I do not trust them anymore. Oh well, we have enough real news now, it might take a few days in Germany until it is released here.

  6. trjug25 January, 2016

    While I didn’t notice any German news articles on this just yet, this lawyer’s blog entry (from November 2013, last update from July 2015, probably to be continued) seems to have some background on the earlier court rulings: http://rechtsanwalt-schwenke.de/abmahnungsrisiko-tell-a-friend-empfehlungsemails-checkliste/

    I didn’t read the article in its entirety, but it somewhere links to http://www.shopbetreiber-blog.de/2014/11/04/haftung-wettbewerbsverstoss-amazon/ (“shopkeeper’s blog”), which I didn’t read either, but skimming of which gave me the impression, that, from what I’ve read, is a mainly German legal particularity: the written warning (“Abmahnung”). Some lawyer’s offices have apparently recognized a business model in this. In this case, Amazon Marketplace sellers seem to have been the target of these warnings, that are costly to the receivers, many of which apparently prefer to pay a fee than arguing about the actual issue in court. Amazon itself does not seem to have been the actual target here, but the platform feature seems to have led to legal problems for merchants using Amazon Marketplace as a platform.

    Since the nature of a good number of these written warning affaires is some legal jerking and it is not something unheard of, this might explain, why there haven’t been big news about this apparently new ruling, that your article suggests to exist in this series. Some legal opinions might follow in the media in the nex days though, if considered newsworthy.


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