Facebook privacy settings broke German laws, rules Berlin court

13 Feb 2018

Mix of old landmarks and modern construction in the centre of Berlin. Image: Andrii Shepeliev/Shutterstock

Facebook’s privacy practices are deemed unlawful by Germany.

A Berlin regional court has ruled that Facebook’s privacy settings and its use of personal data are against German consumer law.

The decision was made after the VZBV group – a federation of German consumer organisations – successfully argued that five of the app’s services were switched on by default and that relevant privacy settings were hidden.

‘Consumers do not pay Facebook usage in euros, but with their data. And they bring a lot of money to the company’

Boxes were already ticked

VZBV said that in the Facebook smartphone app, a location service was pre-activated that revealed the user’s location to the people they were chatting to and that, in the privacy settings, ticks were already placed in boxes that could allow search engines to link to a user’s timeline. This meant that anyone could quickly and easily find personal Facebook profiles.

The court also ruled eight clauses in Facebook’s terms of service to be invalid, including terms that allow the social media site to transmit data to the US and to use personal data for commercial purposes.

The German judgment was made in mid-January but only publicly revealed yesterday (12 February).

Facebook said it will appeal the decision by the court.

“We are working hard to ensure that our guidelines are clear and easy to understand, and that the services offered by Facebook are in full accordance with the law,” it said.

For its part, VZBV will also lodge an appeal as some of its allegations were rejected. This included a claim that it was misleading for Facebook to describe its service as ‘free’ because users effectively paid by sharing information about themselves.

“Consumers do not pay Facebook usage in euros, but with their data. And they bring a lot of money to the company,” said Heiko Dünkel, legal officer at VZBV.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years