On 5 June 2018, the European Court of Justice ("ECJ") decided on several preliminary questions that were raised in an administrative proceeding between the German Data Protection Authority ("GDPA") and Wirtschaftsakademie Schleswig-Holstein GmbH ("Wirtschaftsakademie"), a German educational services provider that offers its services through a Facebook fan page. In its decision, the ECJ held, among other things, that Wirtschaftsakademie qualifies as a data controller ex Article 2 under d Directive 95/46/EC ("Privacy Directive").
In this blog post, we first summarise the contested practice. Secondly, we discuss the ECJ's interpretation of the notion "data controller" and its reasoning as to why Wirtschaftsakademie qualifies as such a data controller; we do not touch upon the other preliminary questions. Finally, we discuss this case's impact under Regulation (EU) 2016/679 ("GDPR").
Wirtschaftsakademie's contested practice
The GDPA ordered Wirtschaftsakademie to deactivate the fan page because neither Wirtschaftsakademie nor Facebook informed visitors of the fan page that Facebook collected and processed the data as described above. Subsequently, Wirtschaftsakademie brought an administrative action against the GDPA's decision, and argued that it does not qualify as data controller ex Article 2 under d Privacy Directive and that the GDPA therefore should have acted directly against Facebook. The administrative proceeding eventually led to the German Federal Administrative Court referring six questions to the ECJ.
ECJ's interpretation of "data controller"
First, the ECJ holds that Facebook primarily determined the purposes and means of the processing of the personal data, and that it therefore qualifies as data controller.
The ECJ continues and holds that the administrator of a Facebook fan page qualifies as a data controller because:
- by creating a fan page, it provides Facebook with the opportunity to place cookies on visitors' devices; and
- it defines the parameters and criteria that Facebook uses to create the fan page specific statistics.
Subsequently, the ECJ rules that the Wirtschaftsakademie took part in the determination of the purposes and means of the processing of the personal data and that it therefore qualifies as a joint data controller with Facebook under Article 2 (d) of the Privacy Directive. Wirtschaftsakademie and Facebook are thus both responsible for properly informing visitors about the processing of their personal data.
Relevance under the GDPR
This blog was written together with Jurriaan van Mil, a student trainee at Stibbe.
 Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.
 Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation).