Telefonica Deutschland CEO calls for debate on data privacy in Germany

Thorsten Dirks speaks during the welcome night at the world's biggest computer and software fair CeBit in Hanover, Germany, March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Nigel Treblin (Reuters)

BERLIN (Reuters) - Telefonica Deutschland's O2Dn.DE chief executive called for a debate about data privacy in Germany and said he was looking into ways to monetise customer data. "We need to have a wide discussion about data in Germany," Thorsten Dirks told journalists late on Tuesday. Data privacy is a sensitive issue in Germany due to memories of Communist East Germany's Stasi secret police and the Nazi era Gestapo. As a testament to that the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information ordered Facebook FB.O in September to stop collecting and storing data on German users of its messaging app WhatsApp and to delete all data that had already been forwarded to it. (Full Story) "People are right to scrutinize any attempt to make money off their data. At the same time they are a handing over data voluntarily to companies such as Google and Facebook," Dirks said, adding that he saw a double standard among consumers. As Germany's biggest telecoms operator in terms of customers, Telefonica Deutschland is sitting on a trove of data that Dirks said could be used for general purposes. It could for instance use anonymised data on its 44 million mobile subscribers' movements for crowd and traffic control as well as "many other areas that we at the moment cannot think of", Dirks said. Telefonica Deutschland has created a start-up company called Telefonica Germany NEXT, which will bundle activities in the area of big data and be a vehicle for new initiatives. Dirks said Telefonica wants to be a platform for all devices connected to the internet, that processes all sorts of data coming from sensors in cars, electronic devices and household apparel. Telefonica's flirtation with big data comes as telecoms operators are looking for ways to expand their business beyond their infrastructure to avoid becoming so-called "dumb pipes". At the same time companies such as Alphabet's GOOGL.O Google and Facebook are making money with user data that is provided to them by user on a voluntarily basis. Telecoms executives in Europe have repeatedly complained that tech companies are stealing away their business while using the data and telecoms infrastructure in which they invested billions of euros. (Reporting by Harro ten Wolde; Editing by Maria Sheahan)