Facebook might soon suffer a hit to its bank account – and more importantly, to its reputation – in Germany. A data protection commissioner has begun formal proceedings, accusing the company of illegally obtaining and storing non-users’ email addresses.
According to Joe Crowther, Johannes Caspar, who also pressured Google over its Street View program, "argued that despite changes to Facebook’s privacy settings, previously saved contacts have not been erased and are being utilised for marketing."
That’s a serious charge in Germany, even though the term "marketing" seems to signify messages of the "please join Facebook" variety in this case, not spam urging people to "please buy Product X."
Facebook now has until August 11th to respond to the claims, and if its reply isn’t satisfactory, it could be fined "tens of thousands of euros." Plus, German data authorities and regulators in other countries might choose to question lots of the company’s other practices.
That’s not good news for Facebook, given that a similar chain of events led to Google being investigated at every turn. Executives (and lawyers) representing the company may then make a special effort to dispute the charges in Germany and put this matter behind them.