Germany Dislikes Facebook’s Like Button

    August 19, 2011

Apparently, it will soon be illegal to like anything in Germany anymore, at least through Facebook. Thanks to a determination given by “the data protection centre of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein” (ULD), the Facebook “Like” button violates Germany’s strict privacy edicts, and therefore, must be removed.

As pointed out by The Local, the issues with Facebook were explained by a ULD release, and it essentially says Facebook’s “Like” button builds profiles of users and submits them back to a server in the United States. This is a direct violation of the rules set up by Germany concerning the privacy of its citizens. Because of that, German businesses that reside in the Schleswig-Holstein district must remove the “Like” button from their sites, or else face punishment in the form of a fine:

ULD 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, ULD 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.

That’s 50,000 Euros for those who aren’t sure.

Facebook maintains that their “Like” button meets EU’s privacy standards, but a spokesperson for the ULD, Thilo Weichert, disagrees:

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. Web analytics is among those services and especially informative for advertising purposes. It is paid with the data of the users. With the help of these data Facebook has gained an estimated market value of more than 50 bn. dollars ($50 billion)

Nobody should claim that there are no alternatives; there are European and other social media available that take the protection of privacy rights of Internet users far more serious. That they also may contain problematic applications must not be a reason to remain idle towards Facebook, but must prompt us as supervisory authorities to pursue these violations.

Basically, don’t use anything that could potentially feed Facebook’s metrics-gathering system. In fact, Weichert suggests using other social media platforms, although, the problem with that is potentially missing out on Facebook’s far-and-wide reach.

Nevertheless, the burden of being Facebook-compliant falls on the business owners, at least for now. Nothing in the documents indicates Facebook will be punished for these privacy violations, perceived or otherwise. The fines will not be aimed at Facebook for collecting the data, instead, they will be for the owners who continue to feed the beast.