Facebook loses privacy case in Germany, may help Europeans protect data

facebook must comply with privacy rules in germany berlin court says judge gavel
A German court ruled that Facebook must follow German data protection laws. Will Facebook fight the ruling?

Many countries in Europe, especially France and Germany, are concerned with the way the U.S. government and U.S.-based companies treat privacy. So much so, in fact, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have plans to discuss a special European data network free from the intrusive policies of the U.S. 

Whether or not this secret Euro-Internet comes to pass, Germany already scored a privacy win this week: the Higher Court of Berlin ruled that Facebook must follow German data protection laws, and acknowledged that several parts of Facebook’s terms of service and privacy policies are against the law in Germany. As Loek Essers reports for PCWorld, consumer groups are celebrating this ruling as a victory. 

This ruling agrees with a 2012 verdict against Facebook’s Friend Finder feature. But this newer ruling, made January 24, contradicts a more recent verdict from a German appeals court. That appeals ruling said that German law wasn’t applicable because the Facebook data was processed by Facebook’s office in Ireland, which is part of the European Union.  

But the Higher Court of Berlin found that the data in question was actually processed by Facebook’s U.S.-based servers, which meant the rules of the European Union did not apply, and Germany’s country-specific data protection laws could be enforced. 

“The verdict is a milestone for data protection in the Facebook era,” said the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. This is because it diminishes Facebook’s strategy of using its Ireland office as a way to avoid the country-specific rules in Europe. Ireland doesn’t have as stringent a set of privacy laws as Germany or many other E.U. countries, which is one of the reasons Facebook chose to put its international headquarters there (also the tax laws are good for companies like Facebook). 

A Facebook spokesperson told Digital Trends they are still reviewing the decision, so it’s not clear what the social network’s next move is. Stay tuned.