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Privacy concerns

September 8, 2011

Facebook has agreed to sign up to a voluntary code of conduct in Germany to protect users' data, in a first-ever move for the social networking site. The decision was made at a meeting with Germany's interior minister.

Facebook site on a laptop
Germany wants Facebook users to have better data protectionImage: picture alliance/dpa

Social networking website Facebook said Thursday it would sign up to a voluntary code of conduct in Germany. There have been concerns about the website's use of users' data - a topic which is particularly sensitive in Germany.

"We support this initiative towards self-regulation," said Richard Allen, Facebook's director of European public policy, after a meeting with Germany's Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich.

"It can be a very effective way to protect the interests of Internet users," he added.

Improving relations with government

Politicians and data protection experts have attacked the site for not making its information on data holding transparent enough to users.

Facebook's Like logo
The 'like' button angered data protection agencies in Germany

However, Thursday's move by Facebook seems to have smoothed matters over with the Interior Ministry.

"With Facebook's willingness to sign up for this self-regulation… the debate over the extent to which German data protection law applies to Facebook has been considerably defused," the ministry said in a statement.

In the medium-term, the Interior Ministry is looking to create a general code for social networking which will cover consumer protection, data security and the protection of young people.

Data concerns

In August, Facebook's ubiquitous 'like' button was the target of an attack by Thilo Weichert, privacy commissioner for the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. He announced that any site featuring a 'like' button would be slapped with a 50,000 euro ($72,000) fine.

Weichert argues that this popular function breaches privacy by making it possible for Facebook to guess user preferences and opinions by compiling a profile of all the sites marked with 'like' on one computer.

Weichert reacted angrily to the news of the interior minister's meeting with Facebook. "Mr. Friedrich should do his homework and finally present a valid draft of a law on online data protection," said Weichert. "He shouldn't meddle in things he is not competent in."

Facebook is not alone in facing the wrath of Germany's concerns about data protection. Google was forced to delay the rollout of its Street View 3-D mapping service, to allow residents to block their homes from public view.

Author: Catherine Bolsover (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler