Berlin court strikes down sections of Facebook's privacy policies

Tuesday 13 February 2018 | 16:51 CET | News
Facebook’s default settings and portions of its usage and data protection conditions are in violation of German consumer and data protection laws for failing to adequately inform users about the extent of these procedures and obtain their consent, according to a ruling from the District Court of Berlin. The social network’s consent procedures for data usage have been partially invalidated as a result of the court’s verdict, said the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZBV), the plaintiff in the case.

The court found that a number of Facebook’s default settings, such as a location service setting that revealed a user’s location to chat partners in the Facebook mobile app, did not comply with German privacy laws as the social network did not ensure that users were informed about these pre-determined settings.

Germany’s data protection laws require companies to adequately inform users about the extent and purpose to which their data is being used and obtain user consent before collecting and processing their personal data. 

But the court found that all five settings contained in the VZBV’s complaint, including location service setting in the Facebook mobile app and a pre-checked setting that enabled a user’s timeline to appear in search engines, violated German law for failing to inform users and obtain their consent. 

"Facebook hides settings that are not privacy-friendly in its privacy centre without informing the user adequately of this upon registration," said Heiko Duenkel of the VZBV. "That is not sufficient for informed consent."

The District Court of Berlin also invalidated eight clauses in Facebook’s conditions of use, ruling that these pre-formulated consent forms did not grant Facebook any effective consent for the use of consumers’ personal data. These clauses included a pre-formulated consent declaration that allowed Facebook to utilize the names and profile pictures of users "for commercial, sponsored or related content" and to transfer their data to the US. Another clause required users to pledge to use only their real name and data on Facebook, which implicitly granted Facebook consent to process their data, said the VZBV.

The VZBV also filed a motion claiming that the advertisement "Facebook is free" was misleading for consumers, arguing that consumers pay to use the social network with their data in lieu of cash. But the court rejected this claim and said the advertisements were permissible as "immaterial trade-offs" should not be seen as costs.

The court likewise rejected the VZBV’s claims that Facebook’s data policies do not contain any contractual arrangements. The association said it plans to file an appeal against the dismissed claims at the Court of Appeals in Berlin. 

Facebook has already filed an appeal against the ruling and is closely examining the court’s decision, reported TelTarif.de. The social network issued a statement noting that the company’s products and policies have changed since 2015 when the lawsuit was originally filed, and said it is introducing further amendments to its terms and conditions and privacy policies in light of upcoming legislative changes in the EU. 

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