German organization claims Facebook 'Like' system could be illegal

Facebook's 'Likes' could have violated Germany's notoriously strict privacy laws, it appears. The Independent Centre for Privacy Protection (ULD) of Schleswig-Holstein has claimed the plugin could have broken privacy rights within the country, as ZDNet reports. Theo Weichert, of the ULD, says the plugin builds a web profile of web habits illegally. According to the ULD, the company could use your 'Like' to track you for up to two years, and potentially longer. Again, according to the ULD, the service builds a profile of those who are not members and a more detailed profile of those who are.

Now, the ULD intends to pursue the matter. Any website hosted in Schleswig-Holstein must have removed the Like button before the end of September, lest they want to incur fines of up to €50,000 (roughly $72,000). They also advise people to avoid using the 'Like' system, and better yet, to avoid using Facebook altogether. The organization points out that while profiles are personal, the service encourages using your real name online. Theo Weichert also had the following statement to make on the subject:

“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. Institutions must be aware that they cannot shift their responsibility for data privacy upon the enterprise Facebook which does not have an establishment in Germany and also not upon the users.”

As would be expected, Facebook rejected the claim that they are illegally documenting usage of the Like system. In an official post on the subject, a spokesperson for the Palo Alto company said the following:

“We firmly reject any assertion that Facebook is not compliant with EU data protection standards. The Facebook Like button is such a popular feature because people have complete control over how their information is shared through it. For more than a year, the plugin has brought value to many businesses and individuals every day. We will review the materials produced by the ULD, both on our own behalf and on the behalf of web users throughout Germany.”

Whether or not Germany as a whole will act upon the findings of the ULD is currently unknown. The probability of it is currently also unclear, but without more evidence that Facebook is acting illegally their claims may be simply rejected by the majority of Germans.

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