Hello Barbie, Amazon win big in Germany’s “Big Brother” awards for privacy abuses

A whole new side of Barbie.
A whole new side of Barbie.
Image: Licht
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Germans by and large are wary of surveillance in all its forms, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the Big Brother Awards, which awards “prizes” to organizations and individuals around the world making especially egregious use of Germans’ private personal data.

Organized by advocacy nonprofit Digitalcourage, the 15th annual BBAs were announced Friday night in Bielefeld, Germany, a northwestern city of about 330,000. The tech prize was awarded to Hello Barbie, a “smart” version of the toymaker Mattel’s iconic doll, that records everything its owner says and allows parents to review the sound clips.

Probably the most timely award was in the category of Newspeak (as inspired by 1984’s totalitarian language): Digitale Spurensicherung—roughly, digital evidence security. Just days before, German justice minister Heiko Maas had proposed requiring all telecoms (link in German) to keep user metadata for up to 10 weeks under the guise of national security, and altogether, three Big Brother Awards awards went to the German federal government:

  • to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Service) for its collaboration with the NSA and its monitoring of German citizens’ online activities
  • to the current and former Interior Ministers for “systematic and fundamental sabotage” of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which includes the right to be forgotten
  • and to the Ministry of Health, for the eHealth program, which BBA said puts doctor-patient confidentiality at risk.

Two more prizes went to two of Amazon Logistik’s local subsidiaries, for allegedly violating German privacy law by sending its workers’ personal data to the United States for processing, and to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Elance-oDesk, for the alleged exploitation of digital day laborers.

Germans’ sensitivity towards Big Brother dates back to their history with totalitarian governments and mass data collection, Markus Beckedahl of told Quartz. As a result, the nation’s citizens hold democratic values and human rights particularly dear. Case in point, many Germans were outraged by the domestic spying revelations uncovered by whistleblower Edward Snowden; last year, Snowden won the first and so far only positive award handed out by the Big Brother judges.

Meanwhile, ongoing battles over the right to be forgotten and Facebook in general (link in German) have sparked widespread interest in Germany—and that’s on top of the justice ministry’s data retention proposal. German internet rights activists are likely to have a busy summer.