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Could cost the company tens of thousands of euros

It looks like Apple isn't the only company Germany is looking to pick a bone with regarding user privacy. A German data protection official has prepared legal proceedings against social networking giant Facebook, which has had a history of privacy related problems in the past.

The data protection official, Johannes Caspar, who works in the Hamburg branch, has accused Facebook of illegally "accessing and saving personal data" of those who do not have a profile registered on the site. 

Facebook changed its privacy settings in April in order to allow any user to block access to their e-mail contacts. But for Germany, a country that has strict privacy laws that outline the kind of information and amount of information that can be accessed and by whom, this slight privacy change wasn't enough. 

Caspar has said the contacts that have been previously saved have not been erased, and are now being used for marketing-related purposes. He made it clear that this is a breach of data privacy laws and that it's important to save this information from third parties.

"It is a system that is designed around making it possible for Facebook to expand, for its own benefit," said Caspar. "Given that several million people in Germany alone are members, this is a very unsettling notion."

Caspar reported that many people have contacted his office with complaints regarding the Facebook privacy invasion. Facebook has until August 11 to formally respond to Germany's complaint. These legal allegations against Facebook could result in the company paying tens of thousands of euros. 

Ilse Aigner, Germany's consumer protection minister, has already taken a proactive stance against Facebook by opting to delete her Facebook account, saying that the company isn't doing enough to secure the privacy of its users. 

In addition to problems with Facebook, Germany has initiated an investigation that will look into Google's Street View mapping program and continues to battle with Apple over the company's tracking and collection of iPhone users' data.

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By rs1 on 7/8/2010 9:10:58 PM , Rating: 5
There's a big difference between giving feedback/asking for an improvement and trying to force one. Pointing out flaws and suggesting better ways of doing something is great. So great, in fact, that more people should do it.

The problem is that many people feel like they're entitled to do more than suggest. The article isn't about Germany asking for a change, it's about Germany demanding one. That's where the "if you don't like it, go away/don't use it" comes in. Alternately, "if you don't like it, then build your own Facebook and run it however you want" also works in this case (I suspect you might find that it's difficult to grow your network if you allow your users to make themselves unfindable).

I'm all for user feedback, peer review, and continuous improvement. What I'm not for is people using the law to dictate how a privately operated social networking site must work. Nobody is compelled to use Facebook, nobody needs to use it as part of their daily life. People choose to do so voluntarily, they choose to register with the ability to know in advance what Facebook's current privacy policy is, and by registering they agree to that privacy policy. Complaining about it is fine (although there are plenty of sites more worthy of complaint than Facebook, like spokeo, for one), suggesting alternative privacy policies is fine, but suing them over it is ridiculous.

But, I did come down too hard on your original post. You weren't siding with Germany, so much as providing an example of something that could be done better.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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