Big Brother Awards Germany 2013

By EDRi · April 24, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Deutsche Big Brother Awards 2013 |]

On 12 April 2013 the thirteenth German Big Brother Awards gala was held
in Bielefeld, Germany. Organised by EDRi member digitalcourage, the
awards featured five winners in different categories. No winners showed
up to collect their award – in fact, only three BBAs have been collected
since the awards started in 2000.

The Workplace award went to Apple Retail GmbH in Munich, which runs
Apple Stores in Germany. The company uses blanket video surveillance in
its showrooms, and has recently had a run-in with data protection
authorities over the placement and size of signs informing customers
about the cameras. That has now been changed, but the signs are still
rather difficult to spot, with Apple’s design guidelines cited as the
reason. But the story goes further: according to inside sources, video
and audio monitoring also extends to store rooms and even break rooms
and to the spaces in front of lavatory doors. Also, the legally required
collection of consent from staff is apparently conducted via a document
that new employees are given as they sign their work contracts, which
hardly constitutes the voluntary consent demanded by German law. Further
details that question the legality of Apple Retail’s monitoring are that
the data seems to be processed abroad (in the UK), and stored for
excessive periods of time.

A new category “Global Data Hoarding” was created for the evening’s
longest award speech, which “honoured” Google – not any particular
violation of privacy or oppressive passage in its Terms and Conditions,
but Google’s ubiquitous nature and its dangerous business model. The
company strives to collect as much data about its users – which means
all Internet users – as it possibly can, following surfers around the
net wherever they go, whether they are logged into a Google service or
not. Google’s main business is of course advertising, and its many other
services serve to elicit more specific information about user interests
in order to target these ads better. Google’s stated vision to “organize
the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
was interpreted as a “claim to power” that even extends beyond the
Internet with Google Street View and the latest buzz, Google Glass. This
philosophy culminates in a creepy statement by Google’s Executive
Chairman, Eric Schmidt: “I actually think most people don’t want Google
to answer their questions … They want Google to tell them what they
should be doing next.” The award’s response to all of this is: “Google
must be broken up.” It calls on European data protection officials to
close ranks on Google to reign in this global monopoly.

A funny side story to Google’s award is that the organisers were unable
to contact the winner and extend the customary invitation to the gala.
Mail to Google’s address in Hamburg was returned as undeliverable,
despite Street View showing a crowd of Google employees in front of the
building. Emails and faxes also failed. German consumer protection
association vzbv issued a formal warning against Google a few days after
the awards, deeming the company’s “dead letter box” a violation of
Germany’s Tele-Media Act.

The winner in the Economy category was Deutsche Post Adress GmbH, a
joint venture of Germany’s former state postal service and Bertelsmann,
a multinational mass media corporation with subsidiaries in address data
services. The award was for what is probably the largest family of
address databases in Germany, and the company’s portfolio of services
(including address-based credit scoring) and inquisitive methods of
keeping its data current (using data supplied to Deutsche Post for mail
redirection, delivery workers’ observations, and even follow-up
telephone calls).

The Government and Administration award was given to the German Federal
Police (tasked with border controls and patrols on trains and railway
stations, and separate from Germany’s regular police forces which are
organised by Federal State), for discriminatory and racist searches
without any concrete suspicion. A recent court case was cited in which
it was ruled on appeal that the Federal Police had violated the
Constitution. This happened against a background of failures in the
investigation of a right-wing terrorist group murdering immigrants over
several years (where the victims’ families had been wrongly placed under
suspicion), discrimination in anti-terrorist operations, inquisitive
questions to bi-national married couples, and last not least the winner
itself taking part in a “respect” campaign that seems little more than a
whitewashing gesture. This category also won the vote for the audience
award, in which guests at the gala were asked which winner they found
particularly outrageous.

In the Politics category, the new system for collecting the public
broadcasting licence fee was recognised, with the award going to the
premiers of Germany’s 16 Federal States who signed the changes in an
Inter-State Agreement on Media Services. The licence fee no longer
depends on the presence of a receiving device, which could pave the way
for a collection system that no longer depends on snooping in
neighbourhoods and collecting data even beyond the information stored
with German registration authorities. But that is exactly what the new
Licence Fee Service does collect from several sources, including the
data hoarded by the previous Fee Collection Centre which had received a
Lifetime BBA in 2003. Added to this is a dubious distribution of legal
responsibilities, making checks by data protection officials or
inquiries by citizens about their data almost impossible.

The gala also featured an impressive and topical performance by Pit
Hartling, one of Germany’s leading stage magicians, a “new-speak” award
for the German word “Übersichtsaufnahme” (overview recording) as a
euphemism for police video surveillance at demonstrations, and an
informative talk about the current state of play with the EU’s Data
Protection Regulation.

Big Brother Awards Germany 2013 (English coverage)

digitalcourage news item about its mail to Google being returned (only
in German, 20.04.2013)

(Contribution by Sebastian Lisken, EDRi member digitalcourage)