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German Court: Facebook Must Give Deceased User's Messages to Family

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 30, 2018 7:00 AM

Ho hum, a foreign court ruled against an American company for information and not damages. No problemo, right?

Wrong, especially when the company is an international force like Facebook. A German court ruled the social media giant must give up messages left behind by a deceased family member.

It's a big deal, not just because it sets a precedent for future cases. But when a company loses almost $120 billion in stock value in a day, everybody is watching for what's next.

Death Messages

A German couple sued to get access to their daughter's Facebook account and messages. She had been hit by a train, and the messages could help them find out if it was a suicide.

Facebook resisted for privacy reasons, but Germany's highest court said the digital content was the same as diaries or letters and belonged to the decedent's estate. In that case, it went to the parents.

It is a landmark case in Germany, and a serious concern for Facebook. The company has stepped up security since the Cambridge Analytica debacle put its cybersecurity in the stoplight.

In the wake of the user complaints, Facebook analysts projected decreasing revenues for the social media platform. That led to an historic stock-market episode.

Stock Messages

Facebook shareholders bailed on the company, and the sell-off knocked the company's value down about $119 billion. It was the biggest, one-day loss in the history of the stock market.

What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? About the same as a court ruling in Germany.

For Facebook users, it's about privacy and estate planning in the digital age. For Facebook shareholders, it's sort of the same thing.

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