The social media world is abuzz with news that Facebook Likes are to be banned in Germany. Well, let’s clarify things to start with – it’s actually the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein that has decided to implement the ban and not the whole country. But it’s an interesting story nonetheless…
According to a press release from the Data Protection Commissioner’s Office Independent Centre for Privacy Protection, known as the ULD, the Facebook ‘Like’ plug-in breaks data protection laws:
This seems an extraordinary thing to do and could theoretically pave the way for other parts of Germany to follow suit (blogger Nina Diercks suggests it will). How they could enforce such a ruling is unclear and it also begs the question about what would happen to other social plug-ins, such as Twitter and Google.
According to Socialbakers.com, Germany has 20,538,540 Facebook users, representing 31.5% of the Germany online population. It’s a lower take-up than in the UK (with 58.2% penetration of online population), but this could be a cultural thing. Speaking to my German colleague Constanze, Germans are reluctant to give information about themselves away and are very concerned about privacy, citing that CCTV almost doesn’t exist, certainly not on a municipal level, and retail store cards collecting data on the scale of Tesco or Nectar are nowhere to be seen. It puts the story about banning Facebook Likes in context.
RR: You said you thought the ban was stupid – why is that?
JR: This ban is nonsense, both adding the like button on Facebook and also using Facebook pages to promote businesses. This is clearly a law that should not even be valid. Why shouldn’t a company be allowed to promote its business on a different site? They can go ahead and ban advertising or personal web pages – it’s the same thing.
RR: Are German social media users particularly sensitive to information being shared?
JR: Of course not. And remember we are not talking about Germany, but one region in Germany: Schleswig-Holstein.
RR: Do you think it will spread to other States in Germany? What about other parts of Europe?
JR: I think they might try, but will hopefully also get a backlash from business owners, site owners, media companies, as well as Facebook defending themselves. Facebook responded to say that they do not store Like button information for more then 90 days, an industry standard, which makes sense.
RR: What’s the response been in Germany?
JR: We have discussed this with several large German companies (some of the largest), and obviously this topic is a “to watch thing” for them, and many legal departments are kept busy. But let’s hope Facebook defends itself properly and this is a regional-only thing.
While Facebook has had some issues when it comes to privacy, it seems to me that this is a bit heavy-handed and frankly unenforceable, given that it’s not even a Germany-wide ban, let alone something other countries are doing. Reading online commentator Jeff Jarvis’s blog post, it gives the impression of a government department being out of touch, rather than a protector of civil rights. That said, it does highlight some international cultural differences and is a warning to Facebook to assume that everyone wants the same thing when it comes to online privacy.
- Germans to un-Like Facebook’s “Like” button (rt.com)
- North German State bans websites from using Facebook ‘Like’ plug-in (digitaltrends.com)
- German privacy watchdog dislikes Facebook’s “Like” (sfgate.com)
- Germany likes nobody. (aliceverheij.wordpress.com)
- Facebook’s famous ‘Like’ button considered illegal (theinformativereport.com)