Reprimands & Commendation (2008)

Trends, Notes of Disapproval, In Retrospect


Companies allow themselves generous conditions for sharing data

Alvar Freude

Many companies trading on the internet are including vague or very wide-ranging statements in the privacy sections of their terms and conditions. Apple, for instance, stipulate the permission to pass on customer details “in case this should be necessary for national security, the legal process or other public interests”. If any data should then be transferred, Apple won’t have to worry: Some “public interest” can surely be found! We can only hope that this trend is not going to spread.

ID cards copied for any purpose

Florian Glatzner

It is perfectly normal to identify oneself by showing one’s ID card, for instance when renting a movie, for copying keys, registering in online communities or at airport check-in counters. But in recent years a trend has emerged that ID cards are not just verified for identification but a copy is also made. What is done with these copies, how, where, and for how long they are kept, is mostly not revealed. In most cases, it is perfectly sufficient if the relevant institution simply records the name and address and the fact that an identification has been shown. You should therefore object if someone intends to copy your ID without your explicit consent.

Reservations against publishing video surveillance footage diminishing

Frank Rosengart

The police in the federal state of Brandenburg have publicly asked for information, using recorded video material, about what clearly seem to be underage persons suspected of stealing the school rucksack of a co-student. While previously there had to be a severe crime before such a public search was conducted, inhibitions seem to have come down to a disturbingly low level.


Notes of Disapproval

Federal Ministry of the Interior: Joint “Information Center” (surveillance centre) at the Federal Administration Authority

Rolf Gössner

The Ministry of the Interior are planning a centralised listening operation available to all security authorities at the national as well as the federal states’ level, based at the Federal Administration Authority (Bundesverwaltungsamt, BVA) — in violation of the federalism principle as well as the constitutional tenet of separating the police and secret services. The BVA is thus expanded into a technological hub for German telecommunications surveillance and into yet another intersection between police forces and intelligence services. With this centralisation and informational networking, which has been pursued for a considerable time on several levels, comes the threat of further concentrations of power in the security apparatus that is becoming almost impossible to control.

“Association for Innovation Research and Consultation”: Bizarre questionnaires for recipients of social benefit

Florian Glatzner

“Do you find it appalling if someone tries to force their interests with violence? Do you believe that life in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was not that bad? Do things such as tarot cards, crystals or mandalas help you take the right decisions when faced with difficult life choices?” — These are just some of the questions asked of 3.000 recipients of long-term social welfare (secondary unemployment support, named “Hartz IV” after the government advisor who became synonymous with welfare reform in Germany in 2004) during a study conducted by the “Association for Innovation Research and Consultation” (Gesellschaft für Innovationsforschung und Beratung, GIB) on behalf of the Hamburg unemployment administration. Asked about the sense of asking these questions that probe deep into the privacy of the surveyed persons, even GIB’s director Carsten Becker could not come up with an explanation. But it is easy to imagine how such information in unauthorised hands could cause serious damage.

Federal Criminal Office: Just visiting their website makes you a suspect

Florian Glatzner

On their website, the Federal Criminal Office in Wiesbaden (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) featured information about the extreme left organisation “militant group” (militante gruppe) and then stored the IP addresses of surfers accessing that web page. But if that wasn’t enough: in 417 cases the BKA then tried to find the identity of these web visitors. The hope was to identify members of the “militant group”, explained the BKA. Innocent people get arbitrarily caught in a dragnet and must endure disconcerting enquiries — just because they were surfing the web site of a federal authority! if this is enough to justify police enquiries, is there any way left to behave insuspiciously?

Quelle plc: objection, not consent, to sharing address data

Karin Schuler

Data protection can be so inconvenient! Especially if one can earn good money by forwarding address changes to a subsidiary of Germany’s ex-state postal service, Deutsche Post Adress. Of course, having to ask for consent about this data sharing is simply a nuisance. Quelle, a leading German mail order company, simply gives customers four weeks to object to the transmission of the new address (and it is not made clear to which purpose) to the address trader. “Opt out” is what they say in new-speak — an injury to data protection, we call it!

Polar Electronic: fitness trainers online — welcome fodder for health insurers

Frank Rosengart

Polar Electronic, makers of wrist watches with fitness trainer functionality (pulse, step counter, etc), are offering an online service to their customers where they can register an account and store a personal training profile. Health insurers would be grateful takers of such data, should the customer profiles ever leak out. As a small consolation, to participate is not a requirement for operating the device.

Herford education office: pupils’ data become a business

Florian Glatzner

The education office (Bildungsbüro) in the district of Herford, North Rhine-Westphalia uses a so-called “job navigator” as the basis for its advisory service. This computer program creates personality profiles of pupils, compares them with the requirement profiles for different professions, and produces job recommendations as a result. At closer inspection, the contract between the district and the “job navigator”’s supplier contains a startling passage: the address data of promising job navigator users was to be sold to employers and other “interested companies”, for a price of 200 Euro. But this was not clearly communicated to the pupils, nor where they asked for their consent to the data being shared.


In Retrospect

Anonymous crime reporting on the Internet fosters false accusations

Rolf Gössner

Police forces offering forms for crime reporting in so-called “online” or “internet offices” are leading to several cases of police measures being conducted against innocent people, and thus to severe impairments of basic rights. Since the police in the federal state of Lower Saxony installed an internet portal for anonymous name-calling, which was mentioned in a Note of Disapproval at the 2004 BigBrotherAwards, such simplified reporting facilities have been expanded across Germany, regardless of their susceptibility to serious abuse and denunciations.

Federal Labour Market Authority: an unpleasant choice — money or personal rights

Karin Schuler

Since the 2004 BigBrotherAwards, it seems that nothing has really changed at the Federal Labour Market Authority, or “Employment Agency” (Bundesagentur für Arbeit). Benefits or personal rights — that is the choice that recipients of long-term social welfare (“Hartz IV”) are still presented with. The most extreme experiences that people in need of state support are having to endure are raid-like apartment checks, anonymous denunciations and months of surveillance. Which makes one almost happy if the agency limits itself to “just” sharing one’s data with a market and social research institute for a survey, or asking for comprehensive account details in order to assess individual requirements.


About BigBrotherAwards

In a compelling, entertaining and accessible format, we present these negative awards to companies, organisations, and politicians. The BigBrotherAwards highlight privacy and data protection offenders in business and politics, or as the French paper Le Monde once put it, they are the “Oscars for data leeches”.

Organised by (among others):

BigBrother Awards International (Logo)

BigBrotherAwards International

The BigBrotherAwards are an international project: Questionable practices have been decorated with these awards in 19 countries so far.