Facebook has suffered a blow against its data collection practices in Europe, with a German court ruling some of the social media giant’s user terms violate consumer data protection law.

Facebook says it has addressed the practices in question but the ruling also potentially opens the company up to GDPR challenges by consumer groups in the future. 

Last week a Berlin Court ruled in favour of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, known locally as VZBV, in its case against Facebook. VZBZ alleged the tech giant is violating GDPR’s “informed consent” requirements with its privacy settings and some of its terms and conditions.

The settings in question include a clause on the use of profile pictures for commercial purposes by Facebook and the default activation of location services that reveal users’ location to Facebook partners via the chat function. 

The decision is seen as a regional interpretation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and VZBV says the ruling confirms it and other consumer groups can take legal action in the event of GDPR violations.

“It is not the first time that Facebook has been convicted of careless handling of its users’ data,” said Heiko Dünkel from VZBZ’s legal team. 

“The higher court has clarified that consumer centers can take action against violations of the GDPR.”

Facebook’s default settings allowed search engines to access and display information about users. But, according to VZBZ, the court ruled this setting being on by default did not constitute informed consent from users as is required under GDPR.

The court did rule, however, that Facebook can continue to advertise its platform as “free”. The consumer group had challenged Facebook’s slogan: “Facebook is and remains free” saying it was misleading because consumers paid indirectly with their data which Facebook monetises. 

Facebook says it has updated its terms since the case began in 2015.

“Independent of these German proceedings, we substantially revised our Terms of Service and Data Policy in the spring of 2018,” the company said.

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