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Germany puts access

limits on Facebook

January 26, 2011

FACEBOOK, which faces potential fines for violating privacy laws in Germany, has agreed to let users there better shield their email contacts from unwanted advertisements and solicitations.

After discussions which dragged out for more than six months, Facebook, which has more than 10 million users in Germany, agreed to modify its ”friend finder” service. Users will be better able to block Facebook’s ability to contact people, including non-Facebook users culled from a user’s email address books.

Tina Kulow, a spokeswoman for Facebook in Hamburg, said users in Germany would be advised that the site could send solicitations to people on their mailing lists if they uploaded their address books to friend finder.

Facebook is the second US internet business to modify its operations to suit German privacy laws, which give individuals extensive control over personal data.

Last year, Google, which also faced fines, let Germans exclude photos of their homes from its ”street view” photographic map archive before the service went live.

Like Google, Facebook changed its operation after Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor in Hamburg, began a review of the company’s practices. Violations of German privacy law carry penalties of up to €300,000 ($412,000), though adverse publicity can be more damaging.

Mr Caspar said his office had received ”many, many complaints” during the past six months from Germans who had never used Face- book but were receiving solicitations because their email addresses had been siphoned from friends.

The issue took on political overtones when the German data protection commissioner, Peter Schaar, and the consumer protection minister, Ilse Aigner, criticised Facebook for disregarding privacy laws.

Mr Caspar’s office initially demanded that Facebook deactivate its friend finder service in Germany. But in a compromise, Facebook has agreed to explain the features of friend finder prominently and to tell users how to limit its ability to gain access to contacts and to store them.

The New York Times

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


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