The scaling of apps and SaaS across the globe can happen breathtakingly fast. WhatsApp, whose pace of user growth eclipsed that of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, now has a billion monthly active users all around the world.
Exponential global growth inevitably requires a sophisticated approach to product internationalization. Beyond the localization of the user interface and marketing material, which drive user growth, more mundane content such as legal disclaimers also require translation.
WhatsApp is learning this the hard way after it lost a lawsuit before the Kammergericht Berlin (the highest State Court in Berlin) lodged by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV). The ruling (in German) is available here.
“Everyday English is widespread in Germany but not the type of English used in legal texts, contracts and commercial documents”―Berlin State Court
The court found that “everyday English is widespread in Germany but not the type of English used in legal texts, contracts and commercial documents.” According to the VZBV press release, “The court noted that no customer should have to face ‘an extensive, complex set of rules with a very large number of clauses’ in a foreign language.”
We would argue this is something most consumers, even outside the translation industry, even outside Europe, would agree with.
The State Court ruled that the verdict cannot be appealed. WhatsApp may still contest this and file a so-called Application for Leave to Appeal with the German Federal Court of Justice. It is as yet unclear whether WhatsApp will lodge an appeal.
If the Supreme Court dismisses the case or if WhatsApp decides not to appeal, spending USD 1,500 or so on a translation seems preferable to the alternative. In case WhatsApp still refuses to comply with the law, the State Court will fine the company EUR 0.25m. Failing to pay the fine would result in a prison sentence of up to six months for the company’s Chief Executive Officer.
Jan Koum, make sure you get that translation done before you travel to Germany.