It seems Germans are everywhere in the interesting news these days, from trying to impose the “no taxation without representation” principle on rescued European governments, to banning copycatting Samsung Galaxy Tabs in the Patent Wars… and now, to telling off Facebook for gathering profile data on “users and non-users” who click on their “Like” buttons.
Specifically, this Friday it emerged that the state of Schleswig-Holstein’s ULD (data-protection agency) has apparently found that Facebook builds such profiles. This would be an infraction of German and UE personal data protection laws. But the data-protection commissioner hasn’t filed a suit against Facebook. It has directly forbidden all public institutions within Schleswig-Holstein to use it, and further instructed them to shut down the Facebook Pages and Like Buttons, on pain of fines.
They have also counseled “all Europeans” to keep their fingers from clicking social networking buttons if they don’t want to be thus profiled.
For more background on this plucky state: it’s on the north of Germany, next to Denmark. Not tremendously developed, actually a rather rural and very touristic place. Home to Hamburg (not the capital, that’s Kiel) and Lübeck, two very significant cities for different reasons. And they enjoy quite a bit of seafood.
Facebook has denied the charge, arguing that it only gathers the IP of non-registered Likers. No word on what it gathers about the rest (or, for that matter, about those IPs). They promise to study the allegations.
My personal bet is that the Germans won’t be able to prove wrongdoing, will avoid taking Facebook to the tribunals, and Facebook will move slightly to the right edge of the law before serious consequences ensue.
In the meantime, some may take another and harder look at the current blind, enthusiastic embrace of Facebook as a main pillar of their social conversations. It’s not just the persistent privacy concerns and their legal implications. It’s that running your social presence on Facebook is a free lunch for Facebook. Your user data, their behaviours, are theirs to keep (and, worse, just theirs – you get no copy). They even get to show them banners (your competition’s, if they do their job right… and not cheap: the rates have skyrocketed these months).
And then there is the dear old canard that no private enterprise should be allowed to consolidate a grip on a worldwide identity management system. Least of all one with such a record of high-handedness.
Takeaways, if any
Don’t take me wrong. Facebook is a major entertainment venue and social networking channel, where a whole lot of people, conveniently classified, can be easily reached and interacted with. So please use it.
Just don’t build a communications and social conversation strategy on it, in ways that don’t allow you complete control of your users’ data, and the data on their behaviours. Use Facebook as a dissemination channel, as one more “spoke” in a hub-and-spoke strategy to drive traffic to YOUR own systems and keep tabs on the global conversation.
In short, my humble advice is, as usual: don’t come to depend on it, and avoid feeding the beast if you can. It’s naughty.