Operators of websites with Google Fonts have been warned more often than average in the past. There seems to be a business model behind this. Now the Berlin public prosecutor’s office is investigating.

Warning letter fraud and extortion in more than 2,400 cases: That is the accusation the Berlin Public Prosecutor’s Office is making against a lawyer and his client. The accused allegedly sent warnings to operators of websites that used Google Fonts and offered to waive civil proceedings in exchange for payment of a settlement sum. Now the public prosecutor’s office has searched business premises in various German states to preserve evidence.

What are Google Fonts?

Google Fonts is an interactive directory of over 1,400 fonts. These are mainly used by private individuals and small businesses to create websites. The problem is that the fonts are loaded directly from Google servers when a website is visited. In the course of this, the website operator transmits the IP address of the visitor to Google – without the visitor’s knowledge. This is a circumstance that the two defendants took advantage of. They allegedly visited websites with Google Fonts using software they had programmed themselves and logged the visits. These tracked visits then served as the basis for the allegation of data protection violations and the assertion of claims for damages for pain and suffering.

More than 2,000 affected persons

The operators of the websites immediately received mail. In the warning letter, they were accused of a violation of the General Data Protection Regulation as well as a violation of the right to informational self-determination. At the same time, the website operators concerned were offered to avoid civil proceedings by paying a settlement sum of 170 euros. About 2,000 of them are said to have accepted and paid the settlement offer out of concern about legal proceedings, the Berlin public prosecutor’s office announced.

Software has no personal rights

However, there was no actual violation of the defendants’ informational self-determination, the public prosecutor’s office said. Since the websites were visited by software, there was no person whose personal rights could have been violated. In addition, the website visits had been made deliberately with the aim of IP transmission, which would be tantamount to consent to the data transmission.

High amount of damages

In the course of the investigations, the public prosecutor’s office in Berlin has now executed numerous search warrants, among others in Berlin, Hanover, Ratzeburg and Baden-Baden. Two arrest warrants with a total amount of about 350,000 euros were also executed. According to the public prosecutor’s office, corresponding evidence was seized, which will be evaluated in the course of the next few weeks. It should provide precise information about the number and identity of further victims as well as the actual turnover of the fraud.

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