Facebook facial recognition violates German privacy laws

Summary:Facebook is threatened with legal action and huge fines after German authorities say it violates privacy and data protection laws.

As the Guardian reports, Facebook is being threatened with legal action over its facial recognition software in Germany, which allegedly violates strict German data protection and privacy laws.

(Image via Flickr)

The facial recognition software within Facebook allows users to upload photos without the need to tag each and every friend. Facebook automatically tags photos of friends' that it recognises, and asks the end user to fill in the ones that are missed.

It was met with initial controversy, as users were not told of the new feature -- leading many to complain about Facebook's method of new feature delivery to the world's largest social network.

Germany's top data protection official, Johannes Caspar, has written to Facebook to demand that its facial recognition software does not infringe German users' privacy, and to delete any related data.

Whether or not this includes users' photos and uploaded content, it is unclear. If Facebook passes this request, this could result in restrictions on German citizens accessing the U.S.-based social network.

"The software offered potential for 'considerable abuse' and was illegal", Caspar stated, and said that if Facebook does not comply, it could face fines of up to €300,000 ($430,000).

All European countries derive their basic data protection laws from the European Data Protection Directive, initiated in 1995, and brought into each member states' laws by 1998. Germany, however, went further by bolstering its laws to prevent insecure data transfer even to other European countries.

Germany has been outspoken about Google Street View, though a court in Berlin ruled that it was "legal" to collect street-level images. Google said it would not collect any further Street View images from April this year.

German officials were 'horrified' over the collection of Wi-Fi data from unsecured wireless networks this time last year.

The Guardian reports that Caspar, the data protection commissioner, is being backed up by the federal consumer protection ministry, and expects Facebook to comply with its request under its laws.

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Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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