German consumer group warns Facebook over users’ privacy

The issue, claims vzbv, is that Facebook is now giving away customer data via its new App Center, without telling its users. Rather than operating a system of informed consent, “the user’s consent is simply assumed by clicking on the button ‘play game’ or ‘send to phone’.” This, “in the opinion of the vzbv is a clear violation of the Telemedia Act.” vzbv has given Facebook until 4 September to ensure that App Center customers know what data is released and that the system of implied consent is stopped.

Germany is known for its aggressive attitude towards privacy. Commenting on the issue yesterday, Reuters reported, “Two years ago Germans, wary of any invasion of privacy due to memories of the Nazis' Gestapo and East Germany's Stasi secret police, requested in droves that their homes be deleted from Google's Street View, which allows users to see street scenes on Google Maps and take virtual ‘walks’ on computers.”

vzbv is a non-governmental umbrella organization combining the consumer centers of the 16 states together with 25 other consumer associations. “Getting sued by a consumer protection group isn’t great,” comments the PogoWasRight privacy blog, “but it doesn’t sound as serious as if the government itself goes after them.” Nevertheless, pressure on Facebook’s privacy practices is continuing to grow in Europe.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has said he will reopen his investigation into Facebook's policies on tagging photos, retaining and deleting data and the level of control users have over their information. And in Ireland, the Irish data protection watchdog is expected to decide by early October whether Facebook will face legal action under European privacy laws.

It’s a serious issue for the company. Monetization is largely based on advertising potential, and that potential is based on the ability to target adverts. But if the company’s ability to collect, store and disseminate information about its users is curtailed by privacy laws, then the advertising potential will be similarly curtailed. Since its recent $100+ billion IPO, Facebook has shed almost 60% of its value.

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