Data protection does not kill

Digitalcourage presented again the BigBrotherAward for „data sinners“ in business and politics

Eavesdropping, data retention, EU copyright reform: Germany can be considered one of the countries where people still take to the streets for data protection and civil rights. The Bielefeld-based association Digitalcourage has had a firm place there since 1987, and quite a few protests and campaigns can be traced back to co-founders Rena Tangens and padeluun.

In 2000, Digitalcourage began presenting the so-called BigBrotherAwards. This annual „Oscar for data octopuses“ marks people, companies or organisations that are responsible for data protection offences, surveillance technologies and corresponding laws. Last year, for example, Tesla was awarded for the all-round monitoring of its e-cars with hidden cameras, another prize went to an American-Chinese company that uses headbands to register the attention of students in class.

This year, a prize winner with a similar design comes from Germany. At today’s negative award ceremony in Bielefeld, Proctorio-GmbH from Unterföhring, Bavaria, was recognised for its „fully automated exam proctoring service“. This monitors students remotely during the online exams that are mandatory in the Corona pandemic. The AI-based software uses the webcam of the examinees for this purpose. They are forced to install Google’s Chrome browser and Proctorio’s software on their computers. If the built-in facial recognition system suspects an attempt of deception, it alerts the examiner. He or she can also request a virtual „room scan“ at any time to determine who is present. The distribution of Covid19 at the beginning of 2020 was „an absolute stroke of luck for Proctorio from a marketing point of view“, says university lecturer Peter Wedde in his laudation.

Another of the total of five prizes goes to the company Doctolib from Berlin, which has entered the game as a provider for the digital arrangement of medical appointments. If a doctor’s practice decides to use it, it must grant Doctolib access to the patient data record. Most doctors have little understanding of the technical processes and rely on Doctolib’s expertise, suspects the laudator Thilo Weichert, long-time data protection commissioner of the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein and a veteran of the digital scene. Doctolib promises to respect patient confidentiality and data protection. However, the data is processed in disregard of the confidentiality obligation and used for commercial marketing purposes.

The European Commission also received an award for the mandatory installation of a consumption meter in new cars, which records „considerable amounts“ of technical information of a car in addition to the pollutant emissions and transmits it to the manufacturer with the vehicle identification number. Google also wins a Big Brother Award for the monopoly position of its Chrome browser, which the company uses for new business fields. Google identifies its users for Facebook, for example, so that they receive targeted advertising.

Finally, the last questionable award was presented by Digitalcourage to the deputy chairman of the German Ethics Council, Julian Nida-Rümelin. Fact-poor and dilettantish, the philosopher had publicly claimed several times that „data protection“ had made it more difficult to fight Corona and was therefore responsible for thousands of deaths. „No,“ padeluun raised to this in his tribute: „Data protection does not kill. Data protection is the thin membrane that protects us all from the barbarity of state and commercial encroachment.“

Image: padeluun on Twitter.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.