Wednesday, April 7, 2010

German Minister Launches Attack on Facebook

Plans by Facebook to provide personal data to third parties without asking users for permission are being criticized by a prominent member of the German government. In an open letter to the social networking giant's CEO, Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner threatens to delete her profile if the California company doesn't do more to protect its members' privacy.

Facebook, which started as a modest student network, has now brought together a significant part of the Internet-connected world. The Web site has 400 million registered members, including 7.5 million Germans and hundreds of celebrities. One of them is Isle Aigner. But now Germany's minister for agriculture and consumer protection, who is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet, is threatening to delete her Facebook profile.

In an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE that will be released publicly later on Monday, Aigner sharply criticizes the social networking company's recent decision to collect "general information" from users and to provide that information to third parties in the future.

"I was astonished to discover that, despite the concerns of users and severe criticism from consumer activists, Facebook would like to relax data protection regulations on the network even further," the minister, who is a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, wrote in her letter to Palo Alto, California-based Facebook CEO Zuckerberg.

In its recently updated privacy agreement, Facebook stated that it would begin providing general information about users to third sites -- "previously vetted operators of Web sites and applications." The company wrote: "In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party Web sites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook)."

Among the pieces of data the company is considering sharing is a person's name, gender, profile picture or current location. The data would be shared automatically, and users would not be asked for their permission -- although Facebook will offer an opt-out.

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