The German federal government has recently approved a bill that might substantially change the way consumer privacy rights are enforced throughout the country.
The bill aims to give consumer protection and similar organizations standing to bring an action for injunctive relief against commercial suppliers of goods or services that unlawfully collect or process personal consumer data for certain purposes such as advertisement, market or opinion research, and personality or user profiling.
Even though these uses entail a high risk of privacy violations, consumers frequently refrain from enforcing their related rights as they are unaware of the unlawful practice or deterred by the prospective costs of litigation or the market power of the suppliers. The bill is intended to alleviate this deficit by allowing public interest organizations to invoke privacy rights on behalf of consumers as a whole.
The German position is in-line with general considerations by the European Union to provide for legal mechanisms of collective redress where limited individual damage prevents potential claimants from pursuing an individual claim. At least to some extent, this is also reflected in the most recent draft version of the General Data Protection Regulation currently being debated by the European Commission, Parliament and Council.
In the past, similar collective redress systems have been instituted very successfully in Germany regarding consumer rights in other areas including, for example, the sale of consumer goods and general terms and conditions. If the concept can effectively be transferred to consumer privacy, suppliers of consumer goods and services will have to expect much closer scrutiny of their privacy practices in the future.