Tech & Rights

The Winners of Belgium's Big Brother Awards Are...

School radicalization screenings and applications that collect users' data were awarded prizes during this year's Big Brother Awards.

by David Morelli
The Big Brother Awards "reward" those who do the most harm to privacy in Belgium.
This year the jury sent a strong signal by “honoring” the screening of students to detect their radicalization.

The Big Brother Awards are bestowed upon those who harm privacy in Belgium. This year, for the 5th edition of the prizes, the jury made an example of an intrusive, overreaching program by giving the top award to the screening of Belgian school students to detect radicalization.

‘Betrayal of trust’

This screening procedure had been nominated for the Big Brother Awards by the Flemish organization Kinderrechtencoalitie, which works for children’s rights. Of its decision to give the award to student screening, the jury said:

"This phenomenon is about social supervision. We find that the existing technologies, which enjoy a broad consensus in society, are operated in a way that they are completely beyond the limits of the acceptable. The end does not justify the means. This is a serious betrayal of trust between the school and the student."

The jury also wanted to make clear that the award was not so much a condemnation but a warning:

"This is a good example of the excesses of a school in a specific climate. Without wishing to condemn, rather we give this award as a warning of what is going on. In the current context, certain groups are targeted. It is better to prevent and detect the radicalization in an environment where trust is a foundation. By creating fear and mistrust, children may consider these as core values."

Audience award

The audience prize was awarded to data-intensive applications. The Flemish Bar Association nominated these applications because of their massive collection of personal data, their often very vague policy on privacy, and the lax attitude of the consumer in relation to data collection:

"The applications know you and know where you are. Privacy policy often lacks transparency about its purpose and the extent of personal data collected. Moreover, users do not have enough awareness or do not take the problem seriously."

In making this choice, the public showed its concern about the vast collection of personal data carried out by some applications.

The Big Brother Awards are organized by the Liga voor Mensenrechten, in collaboration with the Kinderrechtencoalitie, the Flemish Bar Association, the Vlaamse Vereniging van Journalisten, the Belgian League of Human Rights, European Digital Rights, datapanik.org, Mediawijsheid and the Royal Flemish Theatre in Brussels.

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