Sat, Aug. 20, 2011

Itsy Bitsy Facebook Pixie

CK - Washington.   Facebook's Like button ran into trouble in a northern German state on August 19, 2011. The Independent Center for Data Protection in Schleswig-Holstein issued a warning to users of the Like button and Facebook pages in the state: A penalty not to exceed 50,000 euros could await such users. Instead of targeting Facebook's non-compliant privacy policies in its web analytics system, the agency took on users.

The new measure highlights inconsistent handling of data protection laws by the various state agencies. While the Hamburg state agency had focused on Google Analytics in January 2011, numerous social media services remain unscathed when they incorporate features that enable the collection or transmission of user data whether or not a user knowlingly activates a particular feature of a website.

The Facebook setup may not even violate German data protection law to the extent the Center targets users. Ordinary users of Facebook pages and Like buttons do not collect and have access to the information about visitors that the Facebook features trigger. Therefore, as Stephan Schmidt explains in more detail in Verstößt die Verwendung des Gefällt mir-Button wirklich gegen deutsches Datenschutzrecht?, users of those features need not fear the edit which states:
[The Center] expects from website owners in Schleswig-Holstein to immediately stop the passing on of user data to Facebook in the USA by deactivating the respective services. If this does not take place by the end of September 2011, [the Center] will take further steps. After performing the hearing and administrative procedure this can mean a formal complaint according to sect. 42 LDSG SH for public entities, a prohibition order pursuant to sect. 38 par. 5 BDSG as well as a penalty fine for private entities. The maximum fine for violations of the TMG is 50TS Euro. Press Release, ULD to website owners: Deactivate Facebook web analytics, August 19, 2011.
Among the instantaneous reactions triggered in Germany and abroad to the Center's edict are critical comments from the German president and other federal influencers. They sympathize with users of social media but not all base their views on a solid understanding of the technology and law involved.

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