German court finds Facebook guilty of privacy violations | News | DW | 12.02.2018

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German court finds Facebook guilty of privacy violations

The Berlin court ruled that five default settings and several other terms of use violated consumers' privacy rights. The social media giant is also facing scrutiny from Germany's competition authorities.

A Berlin court ruled Monday that Facebook's use of personal data is illegal, citing the social media platform's failure to get informed consent from users.

Technology giants — Facebook, Apple and Alphabet, the parent company of Google — are coming under increased scrutiny in Germany regarding their handling of sensitive personal data that enable them to microtarget advertising online.

The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) accused Facebook of violating consumers' rights in a number of areas. The Berlin regional court agreed with the plaintiff that Facebook's default settings, as well as some of its terms of service, violated consumer protection laws.

The court also found parts of the social media giant's data usage consent to be illegal.

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

Facebook vowed to appeal the ruling even though the court ruled in their favor on other aspects of the case.

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Already facing scrutiny

The social media giant, which has more than 2 billion users worldwide, issued a statement saying it had already implemented substantial changes to its terms of service agreement and its data protection guidelines since the case was initiated in 2015.

"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," Facebook said.

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Facebook is already committed to updating its data protection guidelines and terms of service in order to comply with broader European Union rules that are set to go into effect in June.

The social media giant was already under scrutiny from Germany's competition authorities for its handling of users' personal data. The Federal Cartel Office announced in December that it opposed the way the company accesses third party data when an account is opened.

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This includes how it tracks sites its users visit, as well as tapping information from its own platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram.

Facebook has also come under fire for a smartphone app that comes pre-activated and reveals the user's location to the person they're communicating with.

In addition, in the privacy settings, boxes that allow search engines to link to the user's timeline were already checked, meaning that a user's profile could quickly and easily be accessed by anyone.

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bik/kms (Reuters, dpa)