German State Declares Facebook Like Button Illegal, Threatens €50,000 Fine

If a data protection official in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein has his way, the Facebook Like button will be removed by any website from that state, or face the risk of a 50,000 Euro fine.

Apparently, the Like button is "illegally" being used to send back user information to US servers. Likewise, it is "illegally" being used to send back data about you even if you're not a Facebook user.

The purpose of this data, as the data protection official claims, is for Facebook to build a profile for you. It gets worse, Facebook then sends back the aggregated data to the site owners, in the form of "so-called" web analytics.

Perhaps all of this may sound awfully menacing to some people, but there probably aren't that many users surprised by the fact that clicking on the 'Like' button results in data being sent to Facebook, that's what the button is for.

It's also not surprising that the data is used to build up a profile for you, again, this is what users expect when 'liking' something.

However, what the official is trying to underline, though not very clearly, is something that most users may not be aware, which is that when they visit a site with a Like button, even if they don't click on it, Facebook will know that they've visited it.

When you first land on a website with a Like button, the script checks to see whether you are a Facebook user and you are logged into the site. If you are, you may get a custom message next to the button, displaying some of your friends that may have liked the page.

If you're not logged into Facebook, your IP is sent to Facebook instead. Website owners then get to see traffic data, from both Facebook users and non-users.

Of course, this is what every other web analytics script out there does. In fact, most do a lot more. That said, Google Analytics, the most popular tool of its kind, has been under attack in Germany as well.

There is a point to be made here, it is very likely that most users don't realize how the Facebook button works. Then again, most users have no idea what Google Analytics is or does.

Still, most users understand that when they visit a website, the owner of that website will be able to 'know' about it. Overall, the threat of the Facebook Like button to users' privacy is probably smaller than what the German data protection agencies would have you believe.

Unsurprisingly, grandstanding is not an exclusively American behavior. In Germany, one thing that guarantees you attention as a public official or politician, is anything related to 'privacy' issues, especially online.

If you can drag an American company into the mix, which is not hard since the web is dominated by them, it's even better. Google has been on the receiving end of many privacy violation accusations, but Facebook is no stranger to them either.

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