Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has been threatened with a €20,000 (around $26,370) fine over Facebook’s refusal to offer German users anonymous accounts. The threat, waged by a German state data protection agency, was penned in letters which were sent to Zuckerberg in California. In addition, copies of the letters were sent to Facebook’s headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.
In the letters, Thilo Weichert, the data protection commissioner for Schleswig-Holstein, a Northern German State, argued that Facebook’s rules violated German law. “It is unacceptable that a US portal like Facebook violates German data protection law, unopposed and with no prospect of an end,” he vented. Apparently German law requires media services, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) inclusive, to give users the option of using an anonym, or any other fictitious name for that matter.
Weichert also revealed that Facebook had filed for legal protection at Schleswig-Holstein’s administrative court. Nevertheless, Facebook has not changed its position after this fresh string of threats. In fact, a Facebook spokesman has made it clear that the orders were without merit, describing them as ‘a waste of German taxpayers’ money’. He concluded that Facebook would stage a vigorous fight, suggesting that Zuckerberg was not ready to fork out €20,000 from his resourceful coffers.
Not An Isolated Event
Interestingly, this is not the first time Facebook has rubbed shoulders with German privacy watchdogs. The two parties have been at loggerheads over privacy issues since 2011, accenting the delicate nature of privacy issues in Germany.
Back in 2011, German northern state, Schleswig-Holstein, banned companies and local organizations from using Facebook’s popular ‘like’ button. The northern state argued that the ‘like’ button allowed Facebook to maintain a close watch on its users. 2011 was also the time when Hamburg’s data protection authority came to a conclusion that Facebook’s facial recognition feature trampled on German privacy laws. Embers of this facial recognition dispute flared again in 2012, when an investigation related to the facial recognition technology was revisited in August. Incidentally, the issue on facial recognition technology is not exclusive to Germany. At the onset of December last year, an Austrian privacy group threatened to sue Facebook over the same.
Despite the looming threats, probable suits and consequent fines, data protection experts contended that Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) was unlikely to comply with this latest endeavor to push the site in compliance with German law. Jörg Hladj, a lawyer in the data protection space, believes Facebook is very unlikely to change its business model for Germany, or any other country for that matter. “Just from a business perspective, this does not make a lot of sense,” remarked Hladj.