Why there might be less Facebook “Like” buttons in Germany tomorrow

Brandenburg Gate - ©iStockphoto.com/archivesGermany seems to have a problem with new technologies, especially when it comes to privacy and data protection laws, as I’ve commented on before.  I’ve often heard the regulation of the internet here referred to as “out-dated” and sometimes even compared with internet restrictions in China.

As if the situation wasn’t complicated enough, each of the 16 German states has its own Data Protection law and agency, in additional to the national law and Data Protection Officer.  Theoretically, the law can therefore differ from state to state, or at least be interpreted differently.

Which explains why businesses in one part of Germany have had to decide whether to remove their Facebook “Like” button (called “Gefällt mir” in German) from their websites and close their Facebook fan pages.

What is unusual is that the state concerned is Schleswig-Holstein, one of the smaller German states that borders with Denmark, and not Hamburg where Facebook has their German office.

The problem seems to be that they are concerned about the data that Facebook is collecting and then processing, possibly outside of the EU, in the following circumstances:

  • When someone who is not a member of Facebook opens a webpage with a “Like” button on it, but does not click on it
  • When someone who is a member of Facebook opens a webpage with a “Like” button on it, whether they click on it or not
  • When someone visits the fan page of a company, whether or not they are a member of Facebook

These are questions that only Facebook can answer, and depending on your interpretation of the law, companies who use Facebook can be required to explain how their visitors’ data is being processed.

And whilst putting a “Like” button on your website may give you a degree of control over the way it works, using a Facebook fan page obviously works entirely within Facebook’s system.

Which then opens up the question of who is responsible for the data collected about visitors to that fan page.

As if to force the issue, the independent data protection agency in Schleswig-Holstein has told businesses there that they should remove the “Like” buttons from their websites and close their fan pages by today, 30th September 2011, or risk being fined.  The maximum fine for these cases is €50,000!

Thankfully, since they first issued this demand, they have entered into talks with Facebook.  However, this does not mean that the issue is on hold.  On the contrary, today the agency issued a reminder and say in their press release that they will “initiate administrative actions” in October.

Of course, I can only hope that the situation is resolved before my own local Data Protection Agency considers doing the same thing.  I don’t actually use the “Like” button on my sites, but I do have some Facebook fan pages and I’d rather not have to close them down.  Considering that even my state’s top politician has a Facebook fan page, I would hope that businesses here would not be affected quite so badly.

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About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

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