We raised an early warning signal when we admonished CSC for their spying software in 2012, kicking off a wave of criticism from larger parts of society. There was a “special” award to a large number of services, and the awardees knew who they were: the Cloud. The audience award went to water filter makers Brita, who had displayed an unhealthy desire for school pupils’ data.
The BigBrotherAwards 2012 in the category “Government and Administration” goes to the Saxon Minister of the Interior, Mr. Markus Ulbig, for mobile phone cell queries in the region of Dresden. After about 20,000 people demonstrated against a Nazi parade on 19 February 2011 in Dresden, Saxon’s Criminal Police Office (Landeskriminalamt) and Dresden police requested telecommunications connection data for 28 mobile phone cells, most of them in the vicinity of the demonstration. Data from these requests soon surfaced as evidence in criminal cases, for which a mobile phone cell query would certainly have been denied. The laureate insists to this day that the data tsunami thus created, more than one million records for more than 55,000 identified subscribers, was legal.
The BigBrotherAward 2012 in the “Communication” category goes to “the Cloud” as a trend that deprives users of control over their own data. To move address books and photos – in other words, other people’s data – or archives, sales information and company secrets to the impenetrable fog that is the Cloud, is at least reckless. Almost all Cloud storage providers are American companies – and therefore obliged by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow US authorities access to all data, even if the server farms are situated on European soil. This is a glaring violation of the fundamental right to the confidentiality and integrity of IT systems, a right that was introduced into German law by the Federal Constitutional Court in 2008.
The BigBrotherAward 2012 in the “Politics” category goes to the Federal Minister of the Interior, Dr. Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU, the Christian democrats of Bavaria) for establishing a cyber defence centre without authorisation from the German parliament, for establishing a joint defence centre against right-wing extremism also without consulting parliament, and for the plan to soon create a centralised, joint database on “violent right-wing extremism”. The plans for the joint database and the new defence centres cause police, secret services and the military to be networked and integrated in a troublesome way. This is a violation of the German constitution’s historically rooted imperative that these security authorities must work independently and in strict separation.
The BigBrotherAward 2012 in the “Consumer Protection” category goes to Blizzard Entertainment, for various violations of privacy in their online games, such as World of Warcraft. Using recorded data such as time spent playing, hardware characteristics, synchronisation of friend lists, data on gaming behaviour that is publicly available in part (such as: who solved a certain task), personality profiles and character studies can be created. A patent for such an analysis has already been issued in 2007, to a Google employee. Piece by piece, opportunities for data hoarding are expanded in overly long terms and conditions. But an attempt to compel users to use their real names in public was averted by protesting players – at least for the time being.
The BigBrotherAward in the category “Technology” goes to Gamma Group, represented in Germany by Gamma International in Munich, personally by its general manager Stephan Oelkers, for their software “FinFisher”. Gamma advertises the ability of its product to exploit security vulnerabilities in iTunes and Skype to plant spyware on the target system, for example by using fake software updates. It also markets the ability of its software “FinSpy Mobile” to remotely access Blackberry personal mobile devices. Gamma software products are being sold to domestic and foreing state agencies. Among other locations it was found during the storming of the headquarters of the Egyptian secret service in Cairo by civil rights activists.
The BigBrotherAward 2012 in the “Workplace” category goes to Bofrost (a German-based manufacturer and home delivery service for frozen foods), for unlawfully prying into data on a computer belonging to the staff council. Bofrost have evaluated an electronic file belonging to the staff council, and they have used a staff council paper that they discovered as grounds to make a staff council member redundant. Industrial courts have confirmed the illegality of these actions in several cases. On another staff council member’s computer, the remote control software Ultra VNC was installed without the staff council’s consent. A court settlement was required to make Bofrost ensure that they would no longer do this in the future.
The BigBrotherAward in the category “Economy” goes to Mr Markus Hankammer, CEO of Brita GmbH, for the firm’s water vending machines, marketed under the name “Schoolwater”. These machines deliver water only when a school child taps them with a bottle that is bugged with an RFID chip. Several times in recent years, we have highlighted the threats posed by radio chips, which can be read without touch or line of sight and without the bearer noticing it. This waterbottle system is a glaring example of the industry’s attempts to establish a culture of overtechnisation, surveillance and blatant paternalism from early childhood. We also criticise that this system turns water into an expensive and exclusive foodstuff, instead of providing it without restriction to children in school in order to advance public health.
The BigBrotherAwards highlight privacy and data protection offenders in business and politics, they have consequently been called “Oscars for data leeches” by the French paper Le Monde. BigBrotherAwards are an international project. 19 countries have so far given these awards for dubious practices.
The German awards are organised and held by ► Digitalcourage. Among the co-organisers are the German Association for Data Protection (Deutsche Vereinigung für Datenschutz, DVD), International League for Human Rights and the Chaos Computer Club.