German Court Issues Important Judgment on Consent and Transparency in Facebook Case

by Reed Smith
Contact

The Regional Court of Berlin held in a judgment of 16 January 2018 (docket no. 16 O 341/15, German language version of the judgment available here) that Facebook’s default privacy settings and parts of their terms and conditions were invalid. This judgment provides important guidance on consent and transparency.

Background

The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (Federation) sued Facebook and requested cease and desist regarding some of its default settings and terms and conditions.

The Federation argued that Facebook’s default settings violated the requirement of explicit consent. For example, the default settings included a location service in Facebook’s mobile app revealing the location of the person that the user is chatting to. In addition, boxes were pre-activated allowing search engines to link to the user’s timeline.

The Federation also argued that various clauses in the terms and conditions of Facebook were invalid, including clauses that provide consent of the user (i) to transferring personal data to and processing personal data in the U.S. and (ii) using the name and profile picture of the user for commercial, sponsored or related content.

Judgment of the Regional Court of Berlin

First, the Regional Court of Berlin found that five default settings were invalid because the requirements of informed consent were not fulfilled. The court stated that informed consent requires that an organization must provide comprehensive information about the background and the scope of the consent in order for the consent to be based on an entirely free decision of the user. Default settings cannot be regarded as informed consent if the user is not explicitly and actively notified of the default settings in the registration procedure. Facebook did not sufficiently ensure that the user was aware of the default settings. The court noted that a “virtual privacy tour” that Facebook offered, but that was not mandatory, did not change this. Not every user would make use of this privacy tour and “realistically”, most of the users would not further review the privacy settings.

Next, the court held that the consent declarations in the terms and conditions were not transparent and therefore the users were not able to give informed consent. With regard to the consent to the transfer of personal data to the United States, the court observed that the user was not informed about which categories of personal data were transferred, why they were transferred, how they are further used in the U.S. and which standards of data security are applied. Further, the court concluded that the consent language for using the name and profile picture for commercial, sponsored or related content was not transparent. The extent of the usage of the name and profile picture was not clear for the user and not further explained. The court noted that the example that was provided in the consent wording (i.e., use for a brand that the user likes) was not sufficient information about the scope of the consent.

Conclusion

The decision highlights that German consumer protection organizations continue to be very active in enforcing data protection laws.

The judgment was not yet based on the General Data Protection Regulation, but on the current German Data Protection Act. However, it is already a harbinger of what organizations must expect under the new EU data protection law in terms of the level of transparency and information they must provide to its users.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Reed Smith | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Reed Smith
Contact
more
less

Reed Smith on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.