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State German DPA threatens to fine Facebook for opposing anonymity

16 January, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: ULD geht gegen Facebook vor

Germany’s ULD (Data Protection Authority - DPA in the German state Schleswig-Holstein) issued in December 2012 orders threatening Facebook Inc. USA and Facebook Ltd. Ireland with a 20 000 Euro fine for their refusal to accept anonymous user accounts.

Thilo Weichert, the German Data Protection Commissioner, sent two letters to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CE, as well as to Dublin-based Facebook Ireland Ltd, stating Facebook’s current rules of requiring users to provide their real names when creating an account, violated the German law (German Telemedia Act).

"It is unacceptable that a US portal like Facebook violates German data protection law, unopposed and with no prospect of an end," said Weichert. ULD asked Facebook to comply to Sect. 13 par. 6 of TMG which is in line with the European law and which also serves to protect the fundamental rights and in particular the fundamental right to freedom of expression on the Internet.

Facebook Inc. has first of all made clear that Facebook Ltd. in Ireland was exclusively responsible and not the parent company in the U.S., and, secondly, stated that Facebook Ltd. fully complied with Irish data protection laws which implemented the European law.

In the company’s view, the application of the provision set in Sect. 13 par. 6 of TMG, is not applicable to Facebook and, furthermore, it also infringes the European legislation on the subject.

ULD has previously raised other issues with Facebook. In 2011, the German state Schleswig-Holstein banned local organisations and companies from using Facebook's "like" button allowing the site to monitor users, and Hamburg's data protection authority ruled that Facebook's facial recognition feature violated German privacy laws.

Although the threat is not financially challenging for Facebook, it may have an image damaging impact on the social network. However, it is very unlikely that either Facebook Inc. or Facebook Ireland Ltd. change their policies for only one country. A Facebook spokesman said the German orders were without merit and stated that the company would strongly fight them.

German state fights Facebook over alleged privacy violations (4.01.2013)

Opposing anonymity, Facebook risks an insignificant fine in Germany (only in French, 8.01.2013)

ULD orders (only in German, 14.12.2012)

Statement on the Irish audit report (only in German, 21.09.2012)

ULD issues orders against Facebook because of mandatory real names (17.12.2012)



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