Category: General

H&M receives record-breaking 35 Mio Euro GDPR Fine in Germany

21. October 2020

In the beginning of October, the Hamburg Data Protection Commissioner (“HmbBfDI”) imposed a record-breaking 35,258,707.95 Euro GDPR fine on the German branch of the Swedish clothing-retail giant H&M. It is the highest fine, based on a GDPR violation, a German Data Protection Authority has ever issued.

Since 2014, the management of the H&M service centre in Nuremberg extensively monitored the private lives of their employees in various ways. Following holidays and sick leaves of employees, team leaders would conduct so-called “Welcome Back Talks” in which they recorded employees’ holiday experiences, symptoms of illnesses and medical diagnoses. Some H&M supervisors gathered a broad data base of their employees’ private lives as they recorded details on family issues and religious beliefs from one-on-one talks and even corridor conversations. The recordings had a high level of detail and were updated over time and in some cases were shared with up to 50 other managers throughout the whole company. The H&M supervisors also used this Personal Data to create profiles of their employees and to base future employment decisions and measures on this information. The clandestine data collection only became known as a result of a configuration error in 2019 when the notes were accessible company-wide for a few hours.

After the discovery, the H&M executives presented the HmbBfDI a comprehensive concept on improving Data Protection at their Nuremberg sub-branch. This includes newly appointing a Data Protection coordinator, monthly Data Protection status updates, more strongly communicated whistleblower protection and a consistent process for granting data subject rights. Furthermore, H&M has apologised to their employees and paid the affected people a considerable compensation.

With their secret monitoring system at the service centre in Nuremberg, H&M severely violated the GDPR principles of lawfulness, fairness, and transparency of processing pursuant to Art. 5 no. 1 lit. a) and Art. 6 GDPR because they did not have a legal basis for collecting these Personal Data from their employees. The HmbBfDI commented in his statement on the magnitude of the fine saying that “the size of the fine imposed is appropriate and suitable to deter companies from violating the privacy of their employees”.

First judicial application of Schrems II in France

20. October 2020

France’s highest administrative court (Conseil d’État) issued a summary judgment that rejected a request for the suspension of France’s centralized health data platform – Health Data Hub (HDH) – on October 13th, 2020. The Conseil d’État further recognized that there is a risk of U.S. intelligence services requesting the data and called for additional guarantees.

For background, France’s HDH is a data hub supposed to consolidate all health data of people receiving medical care in France in order to facilitate data sharing and promote medical research. The French Government initially chose to partner with Microsoft and its cloud platform Azure. On April 15th, 2020, the HDH signed a contract with Microsoft’s Irish affiliate to host the health data in data centers in the EU. On September 28th, 2020, several associations, unions and individual applicants appealed to the summary proceedings judge of the Conseil d’État, asking for the suspension of the processing of health data related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the HDH. The worry was that the hosting of data by a company which is subject to U.S. laws entails data protection risks due to the potential surveillance done under U.S. national surveillance laws, as has been presented and highlighted in the Schrems II case.

On October 8th, 2020, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et Libertées (CNIL) submitted comments on the summary proceeding before the Conseil d’État. The CNIL considered that, despite all of the technical measures implemented by Microsoft (including data encryption), Microsoft could still be able to access the data it processes on behalf of the HDH and could be subject, in theory, to requests from U.S. intelligence services under FISA (or even EO 12333) that would require Microsoft to transfer personal data stored and processed in the EU.
Further, the CNIL recognized that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the Schrems II case only examined the situation where an operator transfers, on its own initiative, personal data to the U.S. However, according to the CNIL, the reasons for the CJEU’s decision also require examining the lawfulness of a situation in which an operator processes personal data in the EU but faces the possibility of having to transfer the data following an administrative or judicial order or request from U.S. intelligence services, which was not clearly stated in the Schrems II ruling. In that case, the CNIL considered that U.S. laws (FISA and EO 12333) also apply to personal data stored outside of the U.S.

In the decision of the Conseil d’État, it agreed with the CNIL that it cannot be totally discounted that U.S. public authorities could request Microsoft and its Irish affiliate to access some of the data held in the HDH. However, the summary proceedings judge did not consider the CJEU’s ruling in the Schrems II case to also require examination of the conditions under which personal data may be processed in the EU by U.S. companies or their affiliates as data processors. EU law does not prohibit subcontracting U.S. companies to process personal data in the EU. In addition, the Conseil d’État considered the violation of the GDPR in this case was purely hypothetical because it presupposes that U.S. authorities are interested in accessing the health data held in the HDH. Further, the summary proceedings judge noted that the health data is pseudonymized before being shared within the HDH, and is then further encrypted by Microsoft.

In the end, the judge highlighted that, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an important public interest in continuing the processing of health data as enabled by the HDH. The conclusion reached by the Conseil d’ètat was that there is no adequate justification for suspending the data processing activities conducted by the HDH, but the judge ordered the HDH to work with Microsoft to further strengthen privacy rights.

British Airways: Fine reduced

In 2018 British Airways (BA) had to announce that they suffered a massive data breach. The data breach referred to the online booking tool. Login data and credit card data as well as travel data and address data were accessed illegaly. Affected were more than 400.000 customers.

Back in 2019 the UK’s Information Commissioners Office (ICO) evaluated the breach and stated that weak security precautions enabled the hakers to access the data. Thus, the ICO fined BA as a consequence of the breach a record fine of £183.000.000 (€ 205.000.000).

BA appealed against the fine and now – in 2020 – the ICO announced a reduced fine.

On October 16th, 2020, the ICO announced the final sanction for BA. The initial fine of £183.000.000 (€ 205.000.000) has been reduced to a total fine of £20.000.000 (€ 22.000.000). Reason for the reduction is inter alia the current COVID-19 situation and it’s consequences for the Aviation industry.

The notification from the authority states in this context:

As part of the regulatory process the ICO considered both representations from BA and the economic impact of COVID-19 on their business before setting a final penalty.

Swiss Data Protection Commissioner: “Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield not providing adequate level of Data Protection”

28. September 2020

Following the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) the Swiss Data Protection Commissioner (“EDÖB”) published a statement concerning the level of Data Protection of Data Transfers under the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield. The “Schrems II” decision by the CJEU is not legally binding in the Switzerland because Switzerland is neither a EU nor a EEA country. But as the EDÖB and the Joint European Data Protection Authorities work closely together, the decision has first implications for Swiss data exporters.

In accordance with Swiss Data Protection law (Art. 7 VDSG), the Swiss Data Protection Commissioner maintains a publicly accessible list of countries assessing the level of Data Protection guaranteed by these countries. This list shall serve Swiss data exporters as a guidance for their data exporting activities and acts as a rebuttable presumption. EU and EEA countries have continuously been listed in the first column of the list because they are regarded to provide an adequate level of Data Protection. The U.S. has been listed in the second column as a country providing “adequate protection under certain conditions”, which meant a certification of U.S. data importers under the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield.

Subsequent to the CJEU ruling, the EDÖB decided to list the U.S. in the third column as a country providing “inadequate protection”, thereby also acting on his past annual reviews of the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield. In his reviews, the EDÖB already criticised that data subjects in Switzerland lack access to the courts in the U.S. on account of Data Protection violations and that the Ombudsman-mechanism is ineffective in this regard.

Lastly, the EDÖB pointed out that the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield remains in effect since there has not been a decision by Swiss courts comparable to the CJEU decision and that his assessment has the status of a recommendation. However, the EDÖB advises Swiss data exporters to always make a risk assessment when transferring Personal Data to countries with “inadequate protection” and possibly to apply technical measures (e.g. BYOK encryption) in order to protect the data from access by foreign intelligence services.

EU looking to increase Enforcement Powers over Tech Giants

24. September 2020

In an interview with The Financial Times on Sunday, EU-Commissioner Thierry Breton stated that the European Union is considering plans to increase its enforcement powers regarding tech giants.

This empowerment is supposed to include punitive measures such as forcing tech firms to break off and sell their EU operations if the dominance on the market becomes too large. It is further considered to enable the EU to be able to boot tech companies from the EU single market entirely. Breton stated these measures would of course only be used in extreme circumstances, but did not elaborate on what would qualify as extreme.

“There is a feeling from end-users of these platforms that they are too big to care,” Thierry Breton told The Financial Times. In the interview, he compared tech giants’ market power to the big banks before the financial crisis. “We need better supervision for these big platforms, as we had again in the banking system,” he stated.

In addition, the European Union is considering a rating system, in which companies would be given scores in different categories such as tax compliance, taking action against illegal content, etc. However, Breton said that it is not the intend to make companies liable for their users’ content.

Breton further said that the first drafts of the new law will be ready by the end of the year.

Once the final draft is in place, it will require approval both by the European Parliament as well as the European Council, before it can be enacted.

Privacy Activist Schrems unleashes 101 Complaints

21. September 2020

Lawyer and privacy activist Maximilian Schrems has become known for his legal actions leading to the invalidation of “Safe Harbor” in 2015 and of the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield” this year (we reported). Following the landmark court decision on the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield”, Schrems recently announced on the website of his NGO “noyb” (non-of-your-business) that he has filed 101 complaints against 101 European companies in 30 different EU and EEA countries with the responsible Data Protection Authorities. Schrems exercised the right to lodge a complaint with the supervisory authority that every data subject has if he or she considers that the processing of personal data relating to him or her infringes the Regulation, pursuant to Art. 77 GDPR.

The complaints concern the companies’ continued use of Google Analytics and Facebook Connect that transfer personal data about each website visitor (at least IP-address and Cookie data) to Google and Facebook which reside in the United States and fall under U.S. surveillance laws, such as FISA 702. Schrems also published a list of the 101 companies which include Sky Deutschland, the University of Luxembourg and the Cyprus Football Association. With his symbolic action against 101 companies, Schrems wanted to point to the widespread inactivity among many companies that still do not take the data protection rights of individuals seriously despite the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In response, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) has set up a “task force” to handle complaints against European companies using Google Analytics and Facebook services. The taskforce shall analyse the matter and ensure a close cooperation among the members of the Board which consists of all European supervisory authorities as well as the European Data Protection Supervisor.

Apple to delay iOS 14 Ad Tracking Changes

9. September 2020

In an update from Apple on Thursday, 3rd of September 2020, it was announced that some of the plans that were supposed to be launched in the new iOS 14 update are being delayed. The new feature of iOS developers having to request permission from app users before collecting their data for ad tracking is being pushed back to the beginning of 2021.

This and other features are seen as a big step towards users’ privacy, which you can read up on in our previous blogpost, but they have been criticised by app developers and big tech giants alike.

The permission feature was supposed to change the way users’ privacy is being accessed, from the current opt-out method to an opt-in one. “When enabled, a system prompt will give users the ability to allow or reject that tracking on an app-by-app basis,” stated Apple.

However, this will be delayed until early next year, due to the fact that the changes would affect a large amount of the platforms’ publishers, which rely strongly on ad tracking revenue. Facebook criticized the changes and announced that some of their tools may lose efficiency, and hence cause problems for smaller app developers. To combat this issue, Apple said: “We want to give developers the time they need to make the necessary changes, and as a result, the requirement to use this tracking permission will go into effect early next year.”

In recent years, Apple has taken its users’ privacy more seriously, launching new adjustments to ensure their right to privacy is being integrated in their devices.

„We believe technology should protect users’ fundamental right to privacy, and that means giving users tools to understand which apps and websites may be sharing their data with other companies for advertising or advertising measurement purposes, as well as the tools to revoke permission for this tracking,” Apple emphasized.

Category: EU · GDPR · General
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Apple’s new iOS Update will enhance Privacy Features

31. August 2020

At its Worldwide Developers Conference 2020 back in June, Apple announced new privacy features coming in a future iOS 14 update for its devices. These updates, coming in the fall, are supposed to include more control of sharing location data and indicators when an app is using the microphone or camera.

The updates mean that it will be further possible to limit how much location information is shared with apps, only allowing it to share approximate data rather than the devices precise location. Apple also introduced labels for app permissions to inform people how much data an app requests, before they even download them. The feature will show people those labels in two categories, on “Data Linked To You” and “Data Used to Track You“. However, this will have to be provided by the app developers themselves, leaving grey areas open.

“For food, you have nutrition labels,” said Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s user privacy manager. “So we thought it would be great to have something similar for apps. We’re going to require each developer to self-report their practices.”

Further, the privacy updates also incorporate the Safari browser, allowing for a report on privacy while surfing the internet through the use of a “privacy report” button. It will allow the overview of all third-party trackers through one click, and allow the user to block them directly.

Apple also moved from the opt-out standard for apps using the user’s personal data to an opt-in scheme, requiring the active consent of the users in order to allow the use of their data.

While this is a positive development for all Apple users, Facebook states that it sees issues for small developers having to face these new privacy settings.

In a blog post, Facebook said it was making a change to its own apps, which in addition to its flagship app also include WhatsApp and Instagram, that would likely spare them from having to ask iPhone users for data-tracking permissions that many advertising industry insiders believe users will refuse. Facebook also stated it was making changes due to Apple’s new privacy rules that could hurt smaller developers that use a Facebook tool for serving apps in third-party apps.

Overall, Apple’s new privacy rules are a welcomed changes for its users, handing them further control over their own personal data.

Brazil Update: Rapid Developments regarding Brazil’s LGPD come with legal Uncertainty

28. August 2020

Earlier this year, in April, the President of Brazil issued Provisional Measure #959/2020, which dealt with emergency measures in face of the pending Coronacrisis. The Provisional Measure (“PM”) did not only set rules for the federal banks’ payments of benefits to workers affected by the reduction in salary and working hours and the temporary suspension of employment due to the pandemic, but also postponed the effective date of Brazil’s first Data Protection Law (“LGPD”) from the 14 August 2020 to the 3 May 2021 (we reported).

In Brazil, PMs serve as temporary law and are valid for a maximum period of 120 days, in which both chambers of the National Congress must approve of the PM in order to become permanent law.

As the 120 days period was coming to an end, the House of Representatives approved of the PM on 25 August 2020, but included an amendment to delay the effective date only to the 31 December 2020. One day later, on 26 August 2020, the Senate approved of the PM, but provided yet another amendment to not include any delay of the LGPD’s effective date at all. The Senate’s amendment rather postulates that violations against the LGPD shall not be santioned by the Data Protection Authority until 1 August 2021. Thus, neither the House of Representative’s postponement to the 31 December 2020 nor the President’s intial postponement to the 3 May 2021 were approved of. This development came to a great surprise because in April, Brazil’s Senate itself introduced  Law Bill “PL 1179/2020” which aimed at postponing the effective date of the LGPD to 1 January 2021.

After all, the LGPD will become effective very soon. Upon the rapid developments regarding the LGPD, legal commentators from Brazil still share some confusion to when the law will become valid exactly. They report that the law will become effective either when the President signs it into law or retroactively on 14 August 2020. In any case, many Brazilian businesses are reportedly not ready for the LGPD whilst also facing a very difficult economic environment, as Brazil is suffering from the consequences of the pandemic.

Moreover, Brazilian businesses are also facing legal uncertainty because Brazil’s national Data Protection Authority (“ANPD”) is still not fully functional. Only on 26 August 2020, Brazil’s President passed Decree 10.474 to establish the ANPD. However, the new Data Protection Law gives the ANPD many vital responsibilities that it has not been able to fulfil, because it hadn’t been established yet. These responsibilities include

  • Recognising good practices and best-in-class examples of accountable privacy programs,
  • Establishing rules, procedures and guidance for organisations as required by the LGPD,
  • Clarifying LGPD provisions,
  • Providing technical standards to organisations, and
  • Enabling international transfers of personal data.

As the recent developments and the status quo of the national Data Protection Authority suggest a rocky road ahead for Brazil’s privacy landscape, the fundamental milestones of making the LGPD effective and establishing the ANPD have been passed now. At the same time, Brazilian businesses can draw hope from the fact that they have time to become compliant until 1 August 2021.

Irish DPC to assess TikTok’s plans for opening Data Centre in Ireland

13. August 2020

The short video app TikTok is planning to establish a data centre in Ireland under the One Stop Shop (OSS) data processing mechanism, the Irish Data Commission has stated.

However, the company needs to first be assessed to determine if they meet the requirements of the OSS.

The OSS rules, introduced under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) rules, mean companies can make the Irish Data Protection Commission the lead supervisory authority, if they meet the criteria, and would not have to deal with regulators in each of the 28 EU member states but could be monitored by a lead regulator in one state. This would benefit the company in the case that if something happens, it would be one investigation, one decision and one appeal, rather than one for each country affected.

These plans come at a time when the popular app is facing some criticism, however. Not only is TikTok on the verge of being banned in the United States, a lot of doubts in regard to their handling of user data have surfaced in the past few months.

Last week in Beijing, the Beijing Internet Court ruled against TikTok’s owner Tencent Holdings in cases alleging the misuse of user data. The data was shared without consent between the WeRead and WeChat apps, violating the users’ privacy.

The move to establish a data centre in Ireland “will create hundreds of new jobs and play a key role in further strengthening the safeguarding and protection of TikTok user data with a state of the art physical and network security defense system planned around this new operation,“ stated Global Chief Information Security Officer of the company, Roland Cloutier.

Following the moves of big tech giants of recent years, TikTok plans to open the data centre by the year 2022. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner stated that the examination for the OSS mechanism is currently underway.

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