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German data regulators move to tighten IP address laws

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Passing along IP addresses of web visitors to a third party without their permission could become illegal in Germany.

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, data protection authorities in Lower Saxony have already targeted sites who depend on IP addresses for online advertising.

The Lower Saxony authorities recently ordered German web marketer Matthias Reincke to remove Google’s AdSense and an Amazon widget that features books from the US online retailer.

Lower Saxony data protection commissioner Joachim Wahlbrink says users should give their permission before IP addresses of visitors can be passed on to advertisers such as Amazon. Informing web visitors that the information will be transmitted is not adequate. Data protection officials in other German states now seem to agree.

Reincke runs two forums – one on weight loss, the other on dogs – and says he makes hardly any money from advertising. Although he did remove a page-view counter from INFOnline, as well as the Amazon widget, Reincke is not planning to take down the Google AdSense application and has threatened the Lower Saxony regulators with a lawsuit.

In recent years, Germany has adopted stricter federal data protection laws. Under the revised law, the processing and use of personal data for the purposes of selling addresses and using contact details for marketing will be permitted only if the individual has expressly consented to such use.

Online analytic tracking in Germany is now also under scrutiny. Last month Google broke off talks with the German authorities regarding webmaster use of Google Analytics. German regulators believe that the use of Google Analytics, which generates detailed statistics about visitors, violates user privacy.

Although Google introduced a browser plugin that allows users to opt out of tracking, Germany's data protection commissioner Johannes Caspar isn't satisfied. The plugin isn’t compatible with some browsers. Google claims that Google Analytics is in compliance with European data protection laws.

Switzerland is also tightening its privacy laws. Switzerland's top administrative court will rule on whether Google Inc's Street View map service is legal in Switzerland. Swiss Federal Data Protection Commissioner Hanspeter Thuer has asked the Federal Administrative Court to force Google to manually blur faces caught by Google Street View or face being shut down. ®

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