German Officials Take Aim at Facebook over Privacy Violations

By Nathan Eddy  |  Print this article Print

Facebook finds it doesn't have a friend in German data privacy authorities, as a state official files a legal complaint against the social networking giant, alleging a breach of German data security laws.

Don’t mess with the privacy of German citizens, is the message from the head of the Hamburg office for data protection. State official Johannes Caspar has reportedly initiated legal proceedings against the social networking behemoth Facebook, claiming the company illegally obtained data from German citizens not affiliated with the site, which boasts more than 500 million users worldwide. The AP reported Caspar is suing the company for what could result in tens of thousands of euros for gathering and holding the data.

In a statement, Caspar said he believed Facebook’s practices to be against German data privacy laws. "We consider the saving of data from third parties, in this context, to be against data privacy laws," he said. After the filing of the complaint, Facebook has until Aug. 11 to respond, which would determine whether the case moves forward. "Although there are also other social networks that have such friend-finding functions, they do not allow the permanent storage of other people's data."

In an interview with the AP, Caspar claimed to have received numerous complaints from Germans who did not have an account with the site but had received information from Facebook after the company acquired their names and e-mail addresses from contacts who did have accounts. The news organization also received a response from Facebook concerning the allegations. A statement from spokesman Stefano Hessel acknowledged the company is currently reviewing the complaint and would respond to it within the given time frame. "Millions of Germans come to Facebook each day to find their friends, share information with them and connect to the world around them," the statement added. 

If Facebook doesn’t have a friend in Germany when it comes to data privacy, it’s not alone: In June, search giant Google gave in to German demands to cede to regulators the data it accidentally collected over WiFi while gathering information for Google Maps. Google's Street View cars unwittingly collected 600 gigabytes' worth of fragmented e-mail, Web browsing and other data from unsecured WiFi networks in 33 regions, including Germany, France and Spain.