Facebook users in a northeastern German state have been told to stay away from the “Like” button (Gefällt mir in German) on Facebook. Government sites within Schleswig-Holstein have been asked by the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection to remove all Facebook plug-ins or risk a possible fine of EU€50 000.
In an official press release, the centre stated that the Facebook fan pages and the “Like” button have been shown to infringe upon laws pertaining to European data privacy.
The Independent Centre for Privacy Protection also claims that user information is sent back to the United States headquarters of Facebook, where a profile of the users based on their “likes” is collected. This directly conflicts with Germany’s stringent online privacy laws.
Removing the “Like” button from government websites is only the first of many steps advised by the agency to avoid “comprehensive profiling”. The most extreme of these suggestions is that Facebook be avoided altogether. An English translation of the press release warns that: “Whoever visits facebook.com or uses a plug-in must expect that he or she will be tracked by the company for two years.”
Facebook has said that it has been working hand-in-hand with German authorities to iron out privacy issues and that the Schleswig-Holstein problem is an anomaly. Patrick Noyes, Facebook spokesperson says:
We firmly reject any assertion that Facebook is not compliant with EU data protection standards. The Facebook Like button is such a popular feature because people have complete control over how their information is shared through it. For more than a year, the plugin has brought value to many businesses and individuals every day. We will review the materials produced by the (Independent Centre for Privacy Protection), both on our own behalf and on the behalf of Web users throughout Germany.
This is not the first online privacy incident originating from Germany. Authorities recently stopped Google Street view after numerous complaints about security issues. 250 000 German households
decided to opt-out of the Google mapping program in the wake of the incident.
Facebook too has been in hot water with Germany before, with its facial recognition software being taken offline after it was shown to violate data and privacy protection laws.