German authorities park tanks on Facebook's lawn

Wir verlangen ein Abneigungsknopf … weibchen

Facebook has once again been criticised by a data protection authority in Germany for siphoning off information about the country's citizens to servers based in the US.

This time the company's "like" button and "pages" feature have been attacked by DPA officers in the Northern German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein.

On Friday, Germany's Independent Centre for Privacy Protection (ULD) called on website operators based in that region to "shut down their fan pages on Facebook and remove social plug-ins such as the 'like'-button from their websites," according to a statement on the DPA's website.

It said it had concluded that those features violated the German Telemedia Act as well as the Federal Data Protection Act.

The Schleswig-Holstein DPA noted that anyone using the functions within the dominant social network would have their "service traffic and content data" transferred to servers located in the US.

"Whoever visits facebook.com or uses a plug-in must expect that he or she will be tracked by the company for two years," it claimed.

"Facebook builds a broad individual and for members even a personalised profile. Such a profiling infringes German and European data protection law.

"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," the ULD argued.

It said it expected website owners based in Schleswig-Holstein to bar such user data being passed on to Facebook by "deactivating" such services.

Formal complaints could be brought against public organisations that fail to comply, said the ULD, while fines could be slapped on private outfits who flout the rules, which the authority plans to introduce by the end of next month.

"ULD has pointed out informally for some time that many Facebook offerings are in conflict with the law. This unfortunately has not prevented website owners from using the respective services and the more so as they are easy to install and free of charge," said ULD commissioner Thilo Weichert.

"Institutions must be aware that they cannot shift their responsibility for data privacy upon the enterprise Facebook which does not have an establishment in Germany and also not upon the users."

The commissioner added that the Schleswig-Holstein state was continuing to analyse the "privacy impact" of Facebook applications.

"Users can take their part by trying to avoid privacy adverse offerings," the commissioner added.

"To internet users, ULD offers the advice to keep their fingers from clicking on social plug-ins such as the 'like'-button and not to set up a Facebook account if they wish to avoid a comprehensive profiling by this company. Profiles are personal information; Facebook is requiring its members to register their actual name."

This is Germany's latest privacy crackdown against Facebook.

A few weeks ago, Hamburg's data protection authority warned the social network that it could be fined if the company failed to delete the "biometric data" it harvests from its facial recognition tech, which was quietly rolled out to the service in Europe earlier this year.

Facebook quickly rejected the claim that it wasn't meeting its obligations under EU data protection law.

The company isn't actually breaching any Brussels' data protection law as of today. But legislation is expected in the autumn from the EU that will be applied to any business operating in Europe.

"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," said the firm in an emailed statement.

"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 ULD, both on our own behalf and on the behalf of web users throughout Germany." ®

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