Laudatores: Frank Rosengart & Andreas Bogk

The BigBrotherAward 2011 in the “Communication” category goes to

Apple GmbH in Munich

for taking their customers hostage by way of expensive hardware and subsequently blackmailing them into accepting a questionable privacy policy.

An iPhone is a fancy piece of hardware and costs a few hundred Euros. And once you bought it, of course you will want to actually use it for a wide variety of tasks. After switching it on for the first time, the device welcomes you with the request to enter your “Apple ID”, or at least to give your user account details for iTunes (Apple's online shop for music, films and software). Without entering these data, you can only use the gadget for telephony. For nothing else. You won't be able to use any of the functions for which you actually chose to buy the iPhone. Eager to fully use the device, hardly any customer will be prepared to delve into the small print – as much as 117 pages on the small screen. But you'd better read it all – in particular the chapter called “Privacy Policy”.

In this chapter, the company reserves the right to “share this personal information with [Apple's affiliates] and use it consistent with this Privacy Policy.” This is not restricted to credit card numbers to process music purchases, but includes “occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used”. Apple wants to “better understand customer behavior and improve (its) products, services, and advertising”. Additionally, Apple and its “partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device.”

Whenever a company wants to collect such data, the German Federal Data Protection Law requires the user's explicit consent. A simple checkbox “I agree” during the phone's update procedure will probably not suffice here. Also, it is completely unclear how one might declare one's dissent to the sharing of data. The Federal Data Protection Law explicitly requires the consent to be voluntary in §4a. But imagine you just bought a device for several hundred Euros and might not be able to use it unless you declare your consent to the “Privacy Policy” – it is questionable, to say the least, that your consent will be voluntary.

More generally, you might wonder what you actually bought into when you acqured such a gadget. Which customer rights apply? Could you claim for a “defect” when the terms and conditions are modified, possibly even at a later date, to the customer's disadvantage? Apple seems to be very confident – and most customers will reluctantly bite the bullet.

Other manufacturers prove that it is possible to offer such a product without compulsory assimilation of customer data. With Apple, though, the customer has no choice. To add software, he is forced to use iTunes or the AppStore, and therefore consent to Apple's conditions. It's a matter of sink or swim.

Apple's corporate strategy seems to be focused on gathering as much user data as possible, similar to social networks. In particular, users’ localisation or positioning data is highly coveted by Apple's advertising partners for the purpose of personalised, location-based advertising.

Since evidently not enough customers are complaining against Apple's use of customer data, we hereby raise this complaint by presenting a BigBrotherAward in the category “Communication” to Apple GmbH in Munich.