martes, 25 de enero de 2011

Facebook Makes Deal With German Privacy Group

BERLIN — Facebook, facing potential fines for violating strict privacy laws in Germany, agreed on Monday to let users in the country better shield their e-mail contacts from unwanted advertisements and solicitations it sends.

Facebook, which has more than 10 million users in Germany, agreed to modify its Friend Finder service to let Germans better block its ability to contact people, including non-Facebook users culled from a user’s e-mail address books.

Tina Kulow, a Facebook spokeswoman in Hamburg, said users in Germany would now be advised that the site could send solicitations to people on their mailing lists, should they choose to upload their address books to Friend Finder.

Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, is the second U.S.-based Internet business to modify its operations to suit German privacy laws, which give individuals extensive control over personal data. Google was the first. Last year, facing fines, Google let Germans exclude photos of their homes and apartments from its Street View photographic map archive before the service went live.

Like Google, Facebook decided to change its operation after Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor in Hamburg, opened a review of the company’s practices. Violations of German privacy law carry penalties up to €300,000, or $410,000, but adverse publicity can be more damaging.

Mr. Caspar, during an interview, said his office had received “many, many complaints” during the past six months from Germans who had never used Facebook but were still receiving Facebook solicitations because their e-mail addresses had been siphoned from friends.

The issue took on political overtones, with Germany’s federal data protection commissioner, Peter Schaar, and its consumer protection minister, Ilse Aigner, criticizing Facebook for disregarding German privacy laws.

Mr. Caspar opened his administrative review of Facebook last July.

His office initially demanded that Facebook deactivate its Friend Finder service in Germany. Meetings were held over the past seven months, he said. In the compromise announced Monday, Facebook agreed to explain the features of Friend Finder prominently and to instruct users on how to limit its ability to gain access to contacts and to store them.

Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman in Washington, said the company hoped to continue “constructive discussions and dialogue” with Mr. Caspar.

“We are pleased that we have come to a solution with the Hamburg D.P.A. regarding concerns about Friend Finder,” Mr. Noyes said, referring to the German city’s Data Protection Authority.

Mr. Caspar said his investigation would remain open until he could see whether the changes ended complaints.

Prosecutors in Hamburg are weighing whether to bring charges against Google for its recording of personal data from home WiFi routers. The company’s admission that it had collected personal data from unencrypted WiFi routers around the world has sparked many invsestigations, most of which have ended with warnings and apologies on the ground that it was inadvertent.

In Germany, after giving residents the ability to opt out in advance, Google introduced Street View in 20 cities last year. The service includes photographs of about eight million households, Mr. Caspar said, but roughly 23 million other households in rural areas and smaller cities have not been added to the archive.

Google said it had had to hire workers to process all the requests from Germans wanting to remove photos of their residences from Street View.