Germany furious with Facebook alleged data harvesting

German authorities have called on domestic organisations to boycott Facebook’s ‘like’ buttons, or face its wrath.

The Data Protection Commissioner’s Office in the German federal state of Schlswig-Holstein has demanded that “all institutions” remove social plug-ins such as the ‘like’ button.

The privacy watchdog reckons that Facebook is contravening German and indeed Europe-wide rules by using information garnered from users to flog to advertisers.

“Facebook builds a broad individual and for members even a personalised profile,” a statement read. “Such a profiling infringes German and European data protection law.”

The office accuses Facebook of not taking an adequate effort in letting its users know  ad firms will be able to take a peek at pages that have been ‘liked’. It is considering that Facebook has been misleading about the widget.

“There is no sufficient information of users and there is no choice; the wording in the conditions of use and privacy statements of Facebook does not nearly meet the legal requirements relevant for compliance of legal notice, privacy consent and general terms of use.”

With this in mind, it’s demanding all website owners should “stop the passing on of user data to Facebook in the USA” by “deactivating the respective services”. 

In fact for those who don’t get their skates and ban social plug-ins by the end of this September, there could be reprimands. The watchdog says it “will take further steps”.  This could mean formal complaints for public entities, or fines for private companies.

The organisation has been on Facebook’s back over its use of web analytics for some time now, and has been working on a “continuing privacy impact analysis” of the US based data harvesting giant.

The statement claims it’s possible for Facebook to modify its behaviour to fall into line with other social media applications.

“Nobody should claim that there are no alternatives; there are European and other social media available that take the protection of privacy rights of Internet users far more serious.”

To avoid a full profiling by Facebook it’s recommended either binning your account, which is tough, or showing some restraint next time your finger hovers over the ‘like’ button on Justin Bieber’s fan page.

Of course this is not good news for Facebook, considering that its innovative advertising methods has helped the firm achieve rather dizzying valuations.  So it will be interesting to see whether such a stance is replicated in other parts of Europe where domestic laws and attitudes differ to Zuckerberg’s.

It’s not the first time that Germany itself has flexed its muscles over privacy concerns, so Facebook may well be concerned.  Google previously had to deal with German authorities over its notorious StreetView cars.