German Court Strikes Down Apple's Data Use Practices
May 8, 2013

German Court Strikes Down Apple’s Data Use Practices

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

A German court has ruled Apple´s practices when sharing user information violates their data use policies. The iPhone maker is now prohibited from asking for “global consent” to use customer data, including location. This may force Apple to begin asking users for specific permission each time they wish to access information.

All told, the German court ruled there are eight provisions in Apple´s terms and conditions which should be removed in German sites and stores. Consumer advocacy group Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (VZBV) had challenged these provisions in court.

"The verdict shows the importance of privacy for consumers in the digital world,” Gerb Billen, the executive director of VZBV, said in a statement championing the Berlin court´s ruling.

Apple had already penned an agreement with the VZBV vowing not to use seven of the 15 clauses in its general data use terms. This new ruling took issue with the remaining eight clauses.

According to German law, customers must be aware of which data is used for each specific purpose. Apple´s global consent policy, just as it´s seen in the States and elsewhere, only asks for permission to use this data, but does not get much more specific than that. According to the VZBV website, while it´s acceptable for companies to use global consent forms to share user data, the company is still required to explain the specific uses for each bit of data.

For instance, Apple´s data use terms allow the company to collect the name, address, email address and phone number of each customer without any added consent. The company will now have to specifically ask permission of their customers to collect this information.

The VZBV also found Apple´s data use permissions allowed the company to “merge” this user data with other data from third party affiliates. The court ruled Apple is no longer allowed to send this data off to “strategic partners” for advertising purposes because they don´t explain who these partners are or what information they are using.

Finally, Apple includes a clause in their data use terms which gives them permission to use location information to improve and promote their location-based products, such as Maps. Though Apple claims they aren´t using any specific information which could be used to track an individual user, the court prohibited the company from using this information in Germany. Apple´s German office did not issue a statement on this case, and they are able to appeal this decision.

Other countries have questioned Apple about their data use policies, asking the company what kind of information is used and when.

In 2011 alone, France, Germany, Italy and South Korea began to question Apple about these policies, asking them to make clear how they use location data. It had been discovered earlier that Apple´s iPhone can collect and store information even if the location services toggle is turned off in settings. The US is also taking Apple to task over this issue with a lawsuit.

According to Bloomberg, Apple is being accused in the US lawsuit of not only collecting this information even when the feature is turned off, but sharing the information with third parties as well.