Laudator: Frank Rosengart, CCC

The BigBrotherAward in the "Business and Consumer Protection" category goes to

Tchibo direct, Ltd.

for the practice of forwarding their customers' data to the marketing company Arvato / AZ Direct.

There is nothing new about Tchibo extending its range beyond coffee, the product which started the business of this German chain. These days garden equipment, aroma candles and pyjamas can be bought in Tchibo shops, by mail order or online. What ordinary customers don't know is that addresses are available as well. But these are not advertised in the Tchibo catalogue or on the website - because, as one would expect, the addresses sold by Tchibo are those of their own customers.

The Tchibo catalogue says:

"All personal data is treated as confidential."

The website expands on this:

"The personal data you submit on the Internet will not be passed on to any unauthorised third party outside of the company Tchibo."(1)

So, at first sight it would seem that Tchibo treat their customers' personal data responsibly.

What is really happening to customers' addresses is revealed by the sales brochures of AZ Direct, a company within the Bertelsmann group. AZ Direct are selling Tchibo customer addresses:

"You are looking for mail order customers who care about a strong brand as well as about value for money? You need addresses of families who purchase with a mind for variety and quality? You need to find customers that frequently and spontaneously order products from a catalogue for themselves and their families? Then Tchibo's customer base is just right for you."

AZ Direct Ltd. can apply detailed selection criteria to Tchibo customers. Among these are demographic and geographic items as well as indications whether these customers live in their own houses or in flats, how likely they are to shop by mail order and what purchasing power they have. Which also proves that Tchibo are gathering much more than just address data.

It makes one wonder who these "unauthorised third parties" are that Tchibo will not pass the data on to - companies unwilling to pay?!?

But wait, there is a notice in the Tchibo catalogue (but not on the website), at the very bottom the page with the telephone number, in white letters just 1 millimetre high and barely readable: "However, we may share your information with our partners. We or they may contact you for marketing purposes by mail. If you do not wish to be contacted by others for marketing purposes, please tell us."(1)

Aside from the fact that hardly anyone will read this, there isn't even a hint how customers should "tell us". It is down to the customer to contact Tchibo specially.

With this outstandingly brazen way of forwarding customer data, Tchibo are guilty of a grave violation of their customers' privacy. "All personal data is treated as confidential" - they could hardly be further from the truth, and customers are never told what is happening to their data.

The "glass customer", whose living and consuming habits are stored and evaluated in detail through hundreds of databases, has no place in a liberal and democratic state. It's time for the legislature to stop such activities in their tracks. A draft for a new data protection bill has long been rotting away on the interior ministry's shelves. High time for the red-green coalition to get its act together!

Congratulations, Tchibo direct Ltd.!

(1) These two quotations were not translated, but taken from the website of British subsidiary, which is very similar to Interestingly, British online shoppers see the remark about information being shared in normal print as part of the Privacy and Security statement (one click away from the registering form). The equivalent page on the German website only talks of data being passed on for the purpose of obtaining a credit rating.