Smartphone vs privacy debate heats up at Germany’s open air baths


KARISRUHE, Germany — The smartphone is fast becoming a greater concern than sunburn at Germany’s many open air swimming pools.

Since anyone can easily be photographed or filmed unobserved, cases of sly recordings being posted on the internet are causing distress and also raise the issue of protecting minors.

To ensure bathers’ privacy rights are respected, more and more German lido operators are taking a radical approach and banning all photography and smartphones from their premises.

It’s a tricky balance to find in Germany, where there is a developed culture of outdoor bathing, including topless and nude, and areas operate on the understanding that visitors will be discrete with their gadgets.

“Last year, some young men photographed other bathers without their consent with cameraphones,” said a spokesman for the eastern city of Chemnitz. Complaints of this kind are rare, according to a survey carried out by dpa, but the concern is still great.

Several major bath complexes already tightened their rules at the beginning of this summer season. New multi-lingual signs and visualisations around the open air baths in Freiburg remind visitors to the university town of the photo ban. But given the proliferation and capabilities of many devices, this alone won’t stem the tide of problems, notes the German Bathing Society based in Essen.

The legal background for the bans is provided by the country’s laws on personal rights and the German Art Copyright Act. It is not prohibited to photograph in public, but distribution or publication without the consent of depicted persons is. This also applies to social networks.

The situation in swimming pools is particularly sensitive because of the sparse clothing of visitors, and especially children. The Criminal Code can also be applied if the most intimate spheres of privacy are violated by images taken.

The Karlsruhe baths, for example, articulate their ban in the facility’s regulations. Swimming instructors have a word with guests when they see them fiddling with smartphones. The devices should remain in their pockets, says managing director Oliver Sternagel. And if you want to take a picture or video of your child, you should first inform a swimming supervisor. In general, Sternagel advises guests to leave expensive devices at home.

The company Hamburger Baederland, which operates numerous bathing facilities, also prohibits filming and photographing. The Arriba leisure centre in the Norderstedt district of Schleswig-Holstein, which includes one of the largest baths in Germany, with almost 800,000 visitors per year, goes even further. Any use of mobile phones or binoculars is prohibited.