Germany vs. Facebook: Like Button Declared Illegal, Sites Threatened With Fine

Updated: German websites based in the state of Schleswig-Holstein have until the end of September to remove Facebook‘s ‘like’ button or face a fine of up to 50,000 Euro.

Germany has a long tradition of using laws to protect its citizen’s privacy. Home owners, for example, can ask Google to pixelate their houses in Street View (maybe so that their garden gnomes can stay incognito?). Facebook’s facial recognition feature has also come under fire in recent weeks. The latest target of Germany’s privacy advocates is Facebook’s ‘like’ button („Gefällt mir,“ in German). Thilo Weichert, the head of the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, argues that Internet sites based in his state that use the ‘like’ button are illegally sending this data to Facebook, which in turn uses it to illegally create a profile of its users web habits.

Note: the original article didn’t sufficiently stress the fact that Weichert’s jurisdiction is limited to Schleswig-Holstein only. I’ve updated the story to reflect this more clearly.

Thilo Weichert (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Weichert argues that data from any user who clicks the ‘like’ button – including those who are not Facebook users (which seems to be the crux of the problem for Weichert) – is immediately transmitted to a server in the United States. Weichert told German newspaper FAZ that his concern is that “Facebook can track every click on a site, how long I’m there, what I’m interested in.”

According to the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection’s press release, Facebook uses this data to create “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.”

According to the Associated Press, Weichert is also telling users to “‘keep their fingers from clicking on social plug-ins’ and ‘not set up a Facebook account’ to avoid being profiled.”

Facebook, of course, rejects Weichert’s claims and argues that its operating well within Germany’s and Europe’s data and privacy protection laws. Its users, Facebook says, stay in “full control of their data.”

50,000 Euro Fine

Indeed, Weichert isn’t actually ready to sue Facebook itself because it is outside of his jurisdiction. His agency, however, is threatening to sue site owners who continue to implement the ‘like’ button on their sites with a fine of up to 50,000 Euro. Site owners have until the end of September to remove the ‘like’ button from their sites.

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21 Replies to “Germany vs. Facebook: Like Button Declared Illegal, Sites Threatened With Fine”

  1. this is nuts. I kinda want to write about this too, but wack-a-doodle, I just don’t know if I ought to. glad you did though.

  2. First sentence caused and I LOLed real hard “Germany has a long tradition of using laws to protect its citizen’s privacy.” Forget it! Just whenever some publicity is needed! Beside that? The opposite is the case!

    Greetings from Germany!

  3. First sentence read and I LOLed real hard “Germany has a long tradition of using laws to protect its citizen’s privacy.” Forget it! Just whenever some publicity is needed! Beside that? The opposite is the case!

    Greetings from Germany!

  4. This is not only about the Like Button! This is also about Facebook Pages itself:”The Data Protection Commissioner’s Office (Independent Centre for Privacy Protection – ULD) calls on all institutions in the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany to shut down their fan pages on Facebook and remove social plug-ins such as the “like”-button from their websites”

    (from the press statement)He also tells german news site that he wants to use all means to get this through.

    And it seems, that some german politicians are not happy about it as they use facebook themselves as a means for citizen participation. Now the head of the office of the prime minister of the state of Schleswig-Holstein asks Weichert to engage in a conversation and find ways to still have political debates via internet. Also our president, chancellor, ministries etc. all have Facebook pages.

    German statement:

  5. @mrtopf Nice find. 🙂 Should make things interesting.

    It’s also interesting that many of the headlines I have seen state that Germany is removing the “like” button when the original press release is just for the state of Schleswig-Holstein, not the whole country. At least that is how I read it. Also, the main focus is the “like” button, but like you state, all websites from said state need to remove fan pages also. And the press release states that all other social media pluggins should be removed. So much for twitter, livefyre, Disquis, Google’s +1, the AddThis box, and any other social media box.

    Some of this is probably in part to FaceBook’s new Advertising idea, where they want to sell aggregate data on who is surfing where for targeted advertising. In the long run, I wonder if this will change anything?

  6. Where is the point? People don’t need to click it, anyway, way should they if they do not use facebook? I have a facebook account for myself and I never clicked it. People should be made aware of the meaning and consquences, but if you forbid a stupid like button you should also declare google, amazon, and any social network as illegal where users get profiled in a much more detailed way every day..

  7. @phreax You don’t have to click the Like button to be profiled. The very fact that the like button appears on the page means your computer requested it from Facebook servers which gives them all of the same information as clicking it without ever interacting with the button itself.

  8. @zideshowbob I wonder who protects German citizens’ privacy from the government. Tracking in facebook is anonymous and probably used only on aggregate form. But what about the vast amounts of data on government’s data base that is inherently individual, like tax returns, social security records and so on?

    So, it’s kind of hypocrite from the government, any government, to pretend to protect individuality by banning things like fan pages in facebook (opt-in last time I’ve checked) or the like button.

    They could instead pass legislation to guarantee that facebook should have limits on this data usage, on the amount of personally identified data collected and so on.

    To me, this is just an excuse to protect their local advertising industry. They are not concerned about privacy, they are concerned with local media outlets losing ad revenue to the likes of facebook or google.

    The fact that the same people who are crying foul about privacy on facebook are uttermost silent on who at government is able to access private records, and about the limits of what can be done with this data is telling.

  9. But facebook says that they don’t create profiles and delete IP data after 90 days. Unclear yet is maybe what happens whenyou are logged in and do not click the button. I hope Facebook can comment on that, too.

  10. “Be careful! Don’t use your fingers to do stuff!”

    Facebook’s next innovation, the USB “Like” foot pedal! 😉

  11. wait you fine the website owners instead of the technology/platform… this has to lead to bad things if the courts accept the stance

  12. It’s called privacy mode, and it’s not that hard to use. Why should a few folks concern over legally mandated privacy trump the benefits the rest of us *gain* by being tracked? Yes, you read that right: you might really benefit from being profiled, such as getting offered ads for something you might actually be interested in!
    We don’t need draconian laws to protect our privacy beyond what is reasonable, because companies that cross the line quickly get shamed into realizing their mistakes.

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