Berlin Court finds Facebook’s use of personal data in violation of consumer law

Berlin Court finds Facebook’s use of personal data in violation of consumer law

Facebook could end up paying £12,500 to each UK Facebook user as compensation

A regional court in Berlin has termed Facebook’s use of personal data as illegal after it found that the U.S.-based social media giant did not provide adequate information to consumers while obtaining their consent to use their personal data.

The German court’s verdict on Facebook’s use of personal data comes not long after the EU data protection authority announced that it would probe Facebook and WhatsApp for not obtaining appropriate user consent for their data sharing plans.

In October last year, the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, which is otherwise known as the European Union’s data protection watchdog, said that it would probe Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp for not informing users adequately while obtaining their consent for using their data.

The watchdog said that information presented by WhatsApp to its users on data sharing with Facebook was ‘seriously deficient as a means to inform their consent’. In fact, all that WhatsApp did was share a new privacy policy via a pop-up notification, informing users that the policy had been updated to ‘reflect new features’. At the same time, the checkbox for users to accept the new policy was pre-ticked.

Facebook was previously fined €110 million by the European Commission for lying about its plans to share user data with WhatsApp. During the EU’s investigation into Facebook’s merger with WhatsApp in 2014, the social media giant told the Commission that it would be unable to establish reliable automated matching between Facebook users’ accounts and WhatsApp users’ accounts. However, in August 2016, WhatsApp updated its privacy policy and terms & conditions to include the ability to link WhatsApp users’ phone numbers with Facebook users’ identities.

Despite being fined and warned repeatedly by data protection authorities, it seems Facebook is yet to review its policies that govern the obtaining of user consent. This is because the company’s use of personal data has again been found illegal by a regional court in Berlin.

According to vzvb, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations and a leading consumer rights group that challenged Facebook’s privacy policies in court, the court found certain parts of Facebook’s default privacy settings and services in breach of the country’s consumer law.

‘Facebook hides default settings that are not privacy-friendly in its privacy center and does not provide sufficient information about it when users register. This does not meet the requirement for informed consent,” said Heiko Duenkel, litigation policy officer at the vzvb to Reuters.

The consumer rights group added that Facebook gives away a user’s location to anyone he or she is chatting with by default as this option is pre-activated in Facebook’s app for smartphones. Facebook also pre-ticked certain boxes in privacy settings that allowed search engines to link to a user’s timeline.

Following the verdict, Facebook said in a statement that it would appeal the court’s findings and would also, in the meantime, update its data protection practices and its terms of service to ensure that they will be in compliance with the GDPR which will come into effect in May this year.

‘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.

ALSO READ: Facebook used algorithms to track 6.4m children based on their emotional state

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