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Big Brother Awards Germany 2012

25 April, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Big Brother Awards Deutschland 2012

EDRi member FoeBuD staged the twelfth German Big Brother Awards on Friday, 13 April 2012 in Bielefeld, Germany. Seven "winners" were presented, and as in most years, none of these sent a representative to receive their award. Still, the organisers suspect that one or two winners were represented in the audience, judging from the silent and very earnest demeanour kept by a few guests in officious clothing.

The winner in the "Government and Administration" category was the Interior Minister of the state of Saxony, Markus Ulbig, who had earned his prize shortly before the previous awards, but after the close of nominations. The reason for the award had been stunningly excessive queries of mobile phone cell data in Dresden after an anti-neonazi demonstration in February 2011. Connection and location data for more than one million phone calls had been requested and received, which the award speech described as a "data tsunami". The winners show no sign of regret, and the data records are still not deleted.

The "Communication" award went to "the cloud", to highlight the dangerous trend that entices users to relinquish control over their own data to remote servers, exposing them to observation by foreign governments - US cloud providers are obliged to give access by the Patriot Act, even if their servers are situated in Europe. Another threat is that in case the provider or a government should find any stored content offensive, it might lead to account closure.

The Interior Minister in the German federal government was cited in the "Politics" category. Hans-Peter Friedrich received his award for three joint security projects that each violates the constitutional principle of separating the police, intelligence services and the military. These projects are a "national cyber defence centre" and a defence centre against right-wing extremism, both of these established without consulting the Parliament, and a database on violent right-wing extremism.

The "Consumer Protection" award went to Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft, for various violations of their users' privacy. Blizzard have required players to run a program that scans their computers for "bot" software, they have continually extended the recording of gaming and communication activity, and they tried to introduce an obligation to use real names in their online forums.

In the "Technology" category, the Gamma Group of companies was chosen for having created surveillance software named "FinFisher" and offering it to authoritarian governments. Documents found in Egypt when state security agency offices were stormed in the 2011 revolution showed that the government had rated FinFisher very positively. The governments of Oman und Turkmenistan are also known to have been offered Gamma's services.

The "Workplace" award was won by Bofrost, a German-based manufacturer and home delivery service for frozen foods. In connection with industrial law court cases that Bofrost conducted and lost, they accessed a file on a computer belonging to the Bofrost staff council (staff councils are ”shop-floor” organizations representing employees at the company level in labour negotiations; they are a major element of, and therefore protected by, the co-determination provisions in German industrial law). On another staff council computer, the remote control software Ultra VNC was installed without the staff council's consent. Bofrost have pursued these industrial law cases through appeal courts, and they threatened FoeBuD with an injunction over certain details of the award speech (which FoeBuD were happy to leave out because the core of their award speech was not affected).

The "Economy" award went to a water filter producer, Brita GmbH, for their scheme to set up tap water vending machines in schools under the name of "schoolwater". Users are required to buy RFID-chipped bottles in order to prevent excessive use of their "flatrate" payment plan: the RFID system records when a vending machine is used and "locks" the bottle for 10 minutes. The award speech criticised this as an attempt to turn a resource as basic as water into a commercial commodity, and at the same time introduce a culture of over-technologisation and surveillance to children.

At the end of the gala, the audience was asked to choose one award that they found particularly "impressive, stunning, shocking, revolting, ...". With more than a third of the votes, the audience chose the Economy award, won by Brita's "schoolwater" scheme.

Nominations for the next German BBAs were opened on 1 January 2012 and will close on 31 December. The (German) nomination form is at; PGP-encrypted email to or fax and mail can also be used.

Winners at BBA Germany 2012 (13.04.2012)

EDRi-gram: Big Brother Awards Germany 2011 (6.04.2011)

(Contribution by Sebastian Lisken, EDRi member FoeBuD)



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