Germany Highlights Privacy by Invalidating Apple User Agreement

PrivacyA German court has invalidated eight clauses in Apple's user privacy agreement. Apple had already signed a binding consent agreeing not to use seven of the 15 clauses in that agreement, but Bloomberg reported that the court said the remaining eight clauses deviated too much from German law.

In other words, Apple's entire user privacy agreement has been tossed out by a combination of German courts and regulators because it doesn't go far enough to protect customer data.

“The ruling shows the high importance of data protection for consumers in a digital world,” Gerd Billen, head of the consumer watchdog group Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband, told Bloomberg.

Most of the European Union takes privacy far more seriously than U.S. regulators, or put another way, consumer privacy is largely a joke in the U.S. Corporations in the U.S. can largely use customers and their data to profit in any way they can devise.

That said, Google was fined $22.5 million by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2012 for bypassing Safari privacy restrictions.

The irony is that Apple does a much better job of protecting our data than other U.S. tech giants—make that most other U.S. companies. For instance, newspaper and magazine publishers were tense that Apple wouldn't give them access to subscriber data.

That's an issue that has bugged other businesses in the U.S. interested in mining data from iOS apps. Apple has also put measures into place to require app developers to get permission to access location data, contacts, and other user information.

This is largely, perhaps entirely, because Apple makes its money by selling hardware at a profit, while many other tech giants—Facebook and Google, for instance—make money from advertising. Apple has sought to maintain control over user data in order to make the iOS ecosystem stronger as a whole.

Be that as it may, Apple's policies still haven't passed muster on Germany, where privacy is taken much more seriously than it is here. If we're lucky, this will help spark changes in other parts of the world, too, but we won't hold our breath.

At the heart of the ruling, which can be appealed, is the aspect of Apple's agreement that asked for "global consent" to use customer data. German laws dictates that consumers be informed in specific detail which data is being used for what purposes. A company like Apple can't even ask for permission to use names, addresses, and phone numbers for user's contacts.

That's the other side of the privacy issue, however. Think about how useful our smartphones are because they can make intelligent use of contacts, calendars, location data, and names. Blanket permission-to-use agreements stem from a cover-your-ass reality, especially in the U.S., but our take is that Germany wants to separate the use from the harvesting.

While we love the idea of companies not being able to harvest our contacts, our names and contact information, and other personal data in order to sell it and profit from its use, but there are many legitimate and helpful uses that information can be put to use for our benefit.

All of which is to say that privacy is tough and complex issue. From our perspective, Apple is the one big player out there looking to protect our data, but the German ruling finds that it doesn't go far enough.

Woe be unto the big players like Google and Facebook should the same attention be brought to their models.