German Officials Outlaw Facebook 'Like' Button

from the are-you-kidding-me? dept

We’ve talked a few times in the past about ridiculous German laws that seriously restrict online offerings, but the latest may be the most ridiculous of all. Apparently a German “data protection” official has ruled that Facebook’s “like” button violates privacy laws in the country.

Thilo Weichert, who works for the data protection centre of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, said the social network?s application allowing internet users to express their appreciation of something online, illegally cobbled together a profile of their web habits.

?Facebook can trace every click on a website, how long I?m on it, what I?m interested in,? he said. According to Weichert, all the information was sent to the US company even if someone was not a Facebook member.

Saying this contravened both German and EU privacy laws, Weichert demanded websites in Schleswig-Holstein remove the ?like? button from their offerings by the end of September or face a fine of up to €50,000.

Facebook, of course, is claiming that this is ridiculous and it has implemented the “like” button in accordance with Europe’s data protection laws. Looking at the details, it seems clear that these officials in Germany seem to think that pretty much all of the internet violates data protection laws. Any ISP can already do exactly what Weichert accuses Facebook of doing, but (like Facebook) they have rules that protect how that data is used in accordance with the law. Just because such information could be abused, it doesn’t mean that it is.

But the bigger point is that this is a choice for sites and users and it is not an issue that needs government involvement. Many people like using the “like” button, which is why it’s so popular. If it wasn’t useful to them, it wouldn’t be showing up on sites. Banning it to protect the users who want to use it makes no sense at all.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: facebook

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “German Officials Outlaw Facebook 'Like' Button”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

After the fact that they will be shutting down their power plans in the future, I really don’t expect much from Germany in the terms of sanity. Shame that,
I even learned German because I liked the industrious and ingenious nation.

I think you are unfair to Germany. The nation’s constitutional court had the common sense to nullify the EC data retention law.

The problem of tracking the end user is likely going to be much worse in the US after ISPs begin logging IP addresses for months.

if I had to choose between mandatory data retention over Germany’s admittedly silly and overreaching privacy laws, I know what I wouldn’t like.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not so fast

The problem is that European data protection is a dead letter insofar as US corporations are concerned.

Facebook might promise to comply with German law, but any personally sensitive information held by a US corporation may notwithstanding be subject to a national security letter.

Of course, that issue is not isolated to Facebook’s Like button.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not so fast

Oh wait, ppl throw their personal data willingly towards Facebook… derp

Correction: People throw their personal data willingly towards Facebook and any US agency capable of spelling national security letter. As a noncitizen residing outside the territorial United States, you have no privacy rights at all.

Any foreign website transferring info to any US corporation should at least inform its users that any promised compliance with EC data protection laws is inapplicable to info held by a US corporation.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not so fast

But isn’t that a risk on any website? You go to Google, you’re taking the same risk. You go to a China based site, you take the same risk. You go to a German site, you take the same risk.

Basically, what Thilo Weichert is saying is that any website is a privacy risk and should be illegal.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Like button is a script--no clicking needed.

The like button is a script that every website that has one enables. A script can do exactly what herr Weichert says. It can phone home and tell Facebook exactly how long you visit every page with a like button–and it can associate **you** with an IP or cookies used with a facebook account. So, sorry, it is you who are unfamiliar with the web.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Re: Like button is a script--no clicking needed.

A script can do that if I press the button. Or, heck, I can write a script that will do it. In the context above it looked to me as if he were saying that someone else could take a simple action that would tell Facebook about all of his actions, which sounded impossible. Maybe it’s obvious to those who are familiar with Facebook (I am not) that that’s not what he meant.

Blaine (profile) says:

No Click Required

I’m guessing that they are actually talking about the information gathered when loading the FB objects that are located on FB’s servers. There is quite a lot of information you can collect whether the button is clicked or not. See web bugs look at the “On web pages” section.

On the other hand this behavior is one of the reasons I use ‘ad blocking’ and no-script plugins. Part for the annoying ads but also to stop 3rd party tracking.

It’s not that FB is tracking every click but they can piece together the sites you visit that have a like button. No click required.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No Click Required

“On the other hand this behavior is one of the reasons I use ‘ad blocking’ and no-script plugins. Part for the annoying ads but also to stop 3rd party tracking.”

You should add ghostery to your armoury, by the way. It’s yet another layer of protection against tracking. And it just sits there in the corner, not bothering anyone while doing it’s thing 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Although I am in complete agreement with this article, and the point Mike was trying to get across, I must point out one remark:
“Just because such information could be abused, it doesn’t mean that it is.”
You’re right. But I don’t think this is a valid argument, and neither do you when it comes to other points (how many times have I read a paraphrase of ‘it’s not about whether or not the law will be abused, but the fact that it could be abused’?)

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As loathe as I am to agree, it was the first thing I thought of when I read that sentence. Mike has expressed the other side of this many times when it comes to laws, and it’s just as true here as it is there. If it can be abused, somebody will abuse it.

The fact that it’s voluntary on the part of the users? That’s a perfectly good point. Laws are imposed upon us, often against our wishes and sometimes to our detriment. This is a feature of a social site that the users can simply ignore if they wish.

Drizzt says:

So much misinformation...

Even though I’m not in full support of Mr. Weichert’s latest move, the way it is reiterated here is at least misleading.
1. The main problem is, that data is sent outside the EU where no real privacy laws are in effect.
2. Data of people who aren’t using Facebook is collected too. And that data gets stored for up to two years. Which means whenever I visit a website without NoScript I almost certainly get tracked by one service or another.
3. The announcement of Mr. Weichert only affects Schleswig-Holstein, i.e. only website operators from that state are affected.

The correct solution would be, that Mr. Weichert goes after FB and other services offering tracking and not some random person running a website with some button on it. (Though I personally consider it unfriendly to hand my behavioural data on a silver platter to third parties without my prior consent (unless I get active and use a combination of NoScript and Adblock Plus).)

Still, this article could use some tuning down. Though the way it’s written in might be intentional to get more clicks…

out_of_the_blue says:

Anything that hampers Facebook is to the good.

Facebook is solely an advertising agency. Masses of dolts using it means the leverage will eventually force everyone else into complete exposure on-line. It already has insane influence on hiring and other matters — such as the LA TImes requires a Facebook account to make comments online, removing a slight value from those of us who despise Facebook, and that trend needs to be stopped.

Anonymous Coward says:

The issue is that the like button is basically not only a “like” button, but also serves are the secondary purpose of tracking your surfing habits. Even if you don’t click a like, Facebook knows where you have been, identifiable to your individual account (as long as you are logged in).

That is clearly a violation of privacy, because you don’t get a simple way to opt out, no warning that you are being tracked, etc.

Semi says:

It's Techdirt, who should do their homework

Ifind most of the articles here quite factual and preciae, but here techdirt should have done more research:

1. Yes, the like button tracks everyone, without even being clicked.
2. Yes, any site can track what a user does on the site, but cannot track what the user does on other sites. Facebook however can and does track you across million sites, without your knowledge or agreement. Hell, you do not even have to be a facebook user

so, do you really want any company to track u across millions of sites, without your agreement and even knowledge? I sure use facebook, but I am not sure, I would like any comoany to know, that e.g I am homosexual, spend 2 hours to watch porn and blog on the anonym alkoholics forum 3 times a week :).

Sorry for the spelling, th e mobile issoooo small

Q?r Tharkasd?ttir (profile) says:

For once...

… I do agree with the comments that criticise Mike Masnick’s view of things. Use Firefox with NoScript, making sure Facebook is “forbidden”, AdBlock+, and a few cookie-cleaning add-ons for good measure. If you do need to go on Facebook (which I don’t, why should I support a CIA-sponsored endeavour?) or other sites with similar interest in your whereabouts, use a different browser.

Anonymous Coward says:

I thought most people have rights to free speech, privacy, etc. And it’s the government’s job to protect those rights (rather then take them away as most governments seem to do these days.)

Facebook is well known for compiling huge databases with information on millions of people. Not only to be sold to corporations for advertising but also to be given/sold to the US government. They steal contact numbers from your iphone if you unknowingly let them as well as try to implement facial recognition on the pictures.

I think the government stepping in and banning parts of this is what they are supposed to do.

Also I remember reading an article about the German government not allowing the naked body scanners in their airports. The same ones used in the USA. Stating it’s because they are 1. not safe and 2. not effective.

This is one of the few articles on here I would have to disagree with. It’s not the users’ choice to unknowingly let these corporations gather info on you and sell it to whoever they want. They have a right to privacy and it’s the government’s job to ensure that.

Holger says:

Author does not get the point

The “Like” button tracks users even they are not clicking the button and links them to their Facebook profile if they are signed in at Facebook at the time they visit the page that hosts the script with the “Like” button.
Since the user who visits a page cannot see if that page uses the button until he actually visits the site, his movements inside the net will be tracked without his consent. That’s not OK because users must be able to have a choice. That choice is taken away, hence the button violates EU Law.

Also possible would be to inform Facebook users at login that their movement inside the internet will be captured for as long as they are logged in.

It is false that Facebook and ISP’s would be regulated by the same set of laws. The regulations for ISP’s go much further than those for website owners.

As to what Facebook’s intend is, the facts are already out.
German Tech website actually came up with a two step “I like” button. Basically you still have the button on your site, but it is not sending any data to Facebook until you click a second time to activate the tracking.

Now one would think that everyone is happy, but here is what Facebook had to say. They complained about the button and asked the site to remove it because it would not be in line with the platform policy.

Yes, right – Facebook is so famous for not using personal data in order to make their advertisers happy.

If Facebook does not intend to use the data they should be happy with the button and so will be German authorities.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...