Right to analogue life: digital first and still a concern

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Written By Maya Cantina

Three million people in Germany have never used the internet and many do not want a smartphone. Why digital coercion is a problem

Someone is operating an iPhone with numerous application apps installed.

Indispensable for many, annoying for others: smartphone apps Photo: Silas Stein/imago

What is it about?

Meike Bischoff, 40, has a problem. That’s why she wrote to the Taz. Bischoff doesn’t have a smartphone. So far, traveling by train doesn’t make much difference; she has a BahnCard, which she receives in the mail every year as a plastic card. Deutsche Bahn has now announced this BahnCards will only be digital from June 9 in the smartphone app, the DB Navigator. “For me as a customer without a smartphone, this means a deterioration of the rail service,” says Bischoff. “I believe that the railway is making cuts on the wrong side, namely the users.”

What’s going on at Deutsche Bahn?

The state-owned company wants to give digitalization a boost: according to DB, 60 percent of train passengers already use the BahnCard in digital form in the app. 85 percent of tickets are purchased digitally on bahn.de or in DB Navigator. Reason enough to soon make the BahnCard only digitally usable, the company says. The railway also wants to save plastic to protect the environment. “How about a BahnCard that is printed on a machine or made from recycled material?” counters Meike Bischoff, journalist. She is not the only one with her problem.

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Recently, an alliance of 28 social organizations, including the Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD) and the German Association of the Blind and Visually Handicapped (DBSV), wrote an open letter to railway boss Richard Lutz. The alliance does not explicitly oppose digitalization, but demands that analogue offers for BahnCards and savings prizes remain in force, without digital obligation.

Jana Mattert, responsible for digital accessibility at DBSV, explains that blind and partially sighted people in particular depend on the train to be mobile. Digitalisation could make rail services more accessible to some people, for example because fonts in digital formats can be enlarged more easily. “But this should not be accompanied by the dismantling of the analogue offer, otherwise people without digital devices will be excluded,” says Mattert.

Then apps are the problem, and not digitalization itself, right?

The mandatory app requirement is particularly popular – and not only on the railways. In almost all cases, the app requirement means users must use Google or Apple. Because there are hardly any providers that offer their apps outside the app stores of the two top dogs. So anyone who has a smartphone and installs a health insurer’s app, or perhaps a healthcare app intended to support the treatment of a specific disease, or even just a regional mobility service provider’s app, tells Google or Apple a lot. about themselves.

If you have a milder digital disability, you still have the option to use the service via a computer. That’s about it electronic patients file the case in which many health insurers not only provide apps, but also software for computers. However, some cash registers only offer programs for Windows and MacOS. But even if it does not involve the forced use of an app, but the associated service can also be used via the browser: digital methods require more technology and knowledge than the analogue versions.

This means that competitively priced train tickets can also be booked via the DB website without an app, but no longer without an email address or mobile telephone number. According to figures from the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), last year more than 5 percent of people in Germany between the ages of 16 and 74 were so-called offliners – they had never used the Internet. That corresponds to 3.1 million people in Germany.

In which areas do analog people still have disadvantages?

Anyone who opens an account today usually needs a smartphone. Accounts without online banking have become rare and expensive and online banking in most cases requires an app to receive the transaction numbers (TAN). A market overview by the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations (vzbv) showed two years ago that most providers depend on apps to receive TANs. Some offer TAN generators as an alternative, but customers have to pay extra for them.

Rena Tangent out Digitalcourage Association, which this week started a petition for the inclusion of the right to an analogue life in the Basic Lawgives another example: “What makes many people desperate is that it is becoming increasingly rare to get a doctor’s appointment over the phone.” Practices increasingly refer to appointment booking portals such as Doctolib – and answer the phone only sporadically.

Does it help to file a lawsuit against digital coercion?

There are individual cases in which those affected or associations have filed a lawsuit against different variants of digital coercion – with different outcomes. The Federal Association of Consumer Organizations (vzbv) was successful three years ago with a lawsuit against electricity supplier Lichtblick. He had offered agreements in which he stipulated that communication between consumer and company would take place exclusively electronically. The association filed a lawsuit and the Hamburg Regional Court ruled in its favor: it was not permitted to exclude termination or revocation of the contract by letter.

In another case, a physiotherapist fought in court for the right to file his tax return in the same way. For self-employed persons it is actually necessary to do this electronically. The Berlin-Brandenburg court accepted the data subject’s argument that electronic transmission was unreasonable for him, as he only had to purchase a device and an internet connection. On the other hand, the Federal Court of Finance already decided in 2012 that it considers the obligation of electronic transmission in general to be constitutional. The case concerned the submission of preliminary sales tax returns.

In 2018, a citizen in Baden-Württemberg failed in his action against a municipal resolution that stipulated that future committee meetings would be announced digitally and that posting would only be on a voluntary basis.

What would change if the right to an analogue life were enshrined in the Basic Law?

“Then there is an enforceable right to an alternative, analogous route,” says Rena Tangens. Not least towards the private sector: “Facebook or Google must also adhere to basic rights.” Tangens advises those affected: “It is important to file a complaint with the relevant institutions or companies, which can also be done by letter.” It is also useful to contact local members of the Bundestag so that they can put pressure on the political level.

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