The Hamburg Data Protection Authority has launched a legal action against Facebook accusing the social networking site of illegally accessing, saving and using the personal details of non members for marketing purposes. The action could result in Facebook being fined tens of thousands of Euros. Germany has some of the strictest and most detailed data protection laws in the world, setting out how and how much of an individual’s private information may be accessed and by whom.
This is particularly interesting for three reasons. The first being that in April this year, Facebook unveiled streamlined privacy settings making it possible for users to block access to their e-mail lists. But the head of Hamburg Data Protection Authority, Johannes Caspar, is concerned that previously saved e-mail addresses and other data gathered by Facebook have not been erased. The second is that, until now, the questions asked of Facebook have related to the quantity and use of personal data but this investigation relates to non members. They have not registered for the site and have not given permission for the site to collect and use their information. Lastly, it once again brings into the spotlight that the privacy laws in Europe are much stronger than in the US where privacy relates to protecting the consumer rather than fundamental human rights.
Facebook has until the 11 August to respond. They have made a statement saying that they are reviewing the situation and will respond within the timeframe.
Hamburg has a reputation for taking alleged privacy breaches by internet companies very seriously. It was the first to launch the ongoing investigation into Google for intercepting personal data from WiFi networks, while it was taking photographs for Street View.