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Facebook warning

April 5, 2010

Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner has strongly criticized Facebook's handling of personal data. In an open letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg she urged the social networking site to review its privacy policy.

Faceook screenshot
'Private information must remain private,' says Germany's consumer ministerImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Germany's Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner on Monday called on Facebook to review it's privacy policy "without delay." Aigner wrote an open letter to CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, criticizing the social networking site over its handling of personal data.

"Private information must remain private," the cabinet minister wrote in the letter released to various German media.

"Unfortunately, Facebook does not respect this wish."

Aigner quoted a recent study by a German consumer protection organization, which said Facebook blatantly fails to sufficiently safeguard its users' privacy.

Planned policy changes at Facebook could allow personal data to be passed on to third parties for commercial purposes without requiring the users to actively give their consent.

Facebook widely criticzed in Germany

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg got mail from BerlinImage: AP

"Anyone who wishes to not have their data passed on has to use the opt-out function," Aigner said.

Facebook has been widely condemned for this, as the majority of users are expected to overlook the changes and will therefore unwittingly have their personal information used for commercial purposes.

"I expect Facebook to review its privacy policy without delay. The planned changes to the terms and conditions have to be explicitly communicated to the users before being implicated," Aigner wrote.

The social networking site Facebook has over 400 million users worldwide, 7.5 of who are in Germany. One of those is Ilse Aigner herself, but should Facebook stick to its current model, Aigner said she would see no option but to cancel her account.

Google also in the line of fire

Recently, Aigner had also railed against Internet giant Google's Street View project - also on grounds of privacy protection.

Google's Street View offers 360-degree pictures taken along streets in cities and towns across a country. The service is already available in the US, Britain, France and other countries - and Google plans to extend its service to Germany as well.

Aigner earlier this year had described the images on Google as "a million-fold violation of privacy rights."

"No secret service in the world would hunt for images in such a cavalier manner," she said.

Editor: Rob Turner