German minister tells colleagues to avoid Facebook

Facebook is once again being criticized in Germany, this time by Ilse Aigner, Germany's consumer protection minister.

Ilse Aigner, Germany's consumer protection minister, has warned her fellow cabinet colleagues against using Facebook to promote their work. She specifically cited data security concerns, in an internal letter obtained by German magazine Der Spiegel, which will be published on Monday.

Aigner, a longtime critic of Facebook's privacy policies (she quit the social network a year ago in protest of its data security practices), outlined her objections to the other ministers. "After an intensive legal review, I have concluded that it is crucial to ensure that the Facebook button is not used on any of our official government websites," she wrote in the letter. She also said Facebook Pages should be avoided "in light of justified legal doubts" and that ministries as well as members of parliament should "set a good example and give data protection its due."

Aigner's ministry later released a statement outlining its objections, confirming the advisory to ministries, and adding that the warning extends to private companies as well. It cited authorities' findings that Facebook compiled data on Internet users visiting sites that had the Facebook Like button, even if they were not Facebook members: "This data can be used to create a detailed user profile, although Facebook denies creating such profiles for Facebook non-users." The statement also noted Aigner would visit the US to speak with executives from Facebook and other firms "about respect for German and European data protection policies."

Last month, state data protection commissioner Thilo Weichert declared using the Facebook Like button leads to profiling that infringes German and European data protection laws. The organization alleged Facebook builds a broad profile for individuals not on the service as well as a more personalized profile for each of its members.

The group also announced websites that use the Facebook Like button would be fined up to €50,000 ($72,000) if they did not remove it from their offerings by the end of September. Last week, Richard Allan, Facebook's director of European public policy, went to Germany with the goal of pacifying the situation. This resulted in Facebook agreeing to sign a voluntary code of conduct in Germany to protect users' data, although it was not immediately clear if this would pre-empt any potential penalties.

Facebook has repeatedly come under fire in Germany, where privacy is a particularly sensitive issue for historical reasons. The two appeared to be making progress last week, but now it looks like Aigner reignited the fire.

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