Facebook given one week to stop breaching privacy laws

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Law & order, Privacy, Social networks

Facebook gets privacy ultimatum over app center from German consumer group
A German consumers group has cried foul over Facebook App Center's alleged trampling on privacy laws.

According to the Washington Post, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations has given Facebook one week to stop automatically giving user information to third-party applications without explicit consent.

Facebook may be facing legal action if it doesn't comply by Tuesday 4 September, according to news reports.

Privacy laws are tighter in the EU, and Germans like to employ them.

Just two weeks ago, German data protection officials reopened an investigation into Facebook’s facial recognition technology, on the grounds that the social network was illegally compiling a massive database of members’ photos without consent.

(While you can't stop people from posting pictures of you on Facebook, there is a way to at least stop Facebook from suggesting your name when your friends upload photos.)

App Center, rolled out in the spring, is Facebook's answer to Apple's App Store. The twist Facebook put on its app supermarket is to tell users what games their friends are playing and then direct them to shop for the same apps.
Facebook app center

Facebook is hoping the App Center will keep mobile users on the site long enough for it to squeeze some ad revenue out of them. Facebook's first earnings report was anti-climactic, but the company's keepers really emphasized the earning potential from mobile.

Beyond not asking users for explicit permission, at least one observer finds that Facebook's App Center has privacy trickery built right into its bones.

Over the weekend, Avi Charkham, head of Product & Design at Israeli venture capital firm lool ventures, published a piece in TechCrunch that outlined five Facebook design tricks that affect users' privacy decisions.

He outlined three design quirks specific to App Center:

#1: The Single Button Trick

In the old design Facebook used two buttons – "Allow" and "Don't Allow" – which automatically led you to make a decision. In the new App Center Facebook chose to use a single button. No confirmation, no decisions to make. One click and, boom, your [sic] done! Your information was passed on to the app developers and you never even notice it.

#4: The Action Line Trick

The designers at Facebook know that your eyes will automatically focus on the main action button and will ignore anything below this virtual action line. This is why, in the new App Center design, they hid the detailed permissions you're about to grant below the action line.

#5: The Friendly Talk Trick

In the new App Center Facebook chose to hide the term "Permissions". Instead of showing "Request for Permissions" and a button labeled "Allow" Facebook now sends you to a page full of colorful images with a single button labeled "Play Game".

I have no site design expertise, but even I can see that Facebook has created a site meant to dazzle and perhaps even distract a user from whatever it's doing (or not doing) privacy-wise.

Beyond getting Facebook to ask users for explicit permission to pass their info on to third parties, it would be nice if someone with strong privacy laws expertise could actually tell us whether Facebook is breaching other privacy laws or if the social network has simply used smart, subtle, and/or sneaky design.

German gavel image from Shutterstock. Facebook App Center image from Facebook Developers.

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10 Responses to Facebook given one week to stop breaching privacy laws

  1. Derek Turner · 785 days ago

    Not nice but typical of facebook, look at the email saga.

  2. snert · 785 days ago

    The only reason I have a FarceBook account is - some of my idiot 'friends' refuse to contact me by email and insist I use FartBook. I wonder about them, their intellegence and conceptual continuity.

  3. wrossmck · 785 days ago

    The entire premise of european privacy laws is that a user must willingly and knowingly grant access to their information.

    Whether one calls these tactics subtle, sneaky or smart, they breach european laws, and as such must be changed.

    The majority of users of these games will not really care what information they are giving, if all their friends are playing a certain game, which makes it more important that the information is easily accessible, and knowingly handed over to a third party.

  4. M. Wright · 785 days ago

    The U.S. needs to create laws like this. A lot of us, myself included, have to use Facebook to keep up with friends and family because there's no other way they're willing to keep in touch. Some of us also must use it because it's our job to post material for organizations we work for.

    I blocked all applications months ago, will not allow people to tag me without my express permission, locked down all of my privacy settings when I set up my account, and I will not hesitate to block people.

    If someone doesn't like what you post, they'll snitch to someone in authority. That person in authority need not have an account to find out what you're up to. I've seen that happen with some very unpleasant consequences.

    You cannot be too careful. Be discreet with what you post, and that means everywhere on the Internet, not just Facebook.

    Sorry for the overly long answer. Most of you know all of this, so I am posting this for anyone who is new to Facebook.

  5. Internaut · 785 days ago

    The Borg are here - We will be assimilated.

  6. Lisa Vaas · 784 days ago

    I agree: the EU's approach to privacy—both in attitude and relevant legislation—is far more protective of individual rights than here in the US. Whenever you read about Facebook being forced to do this or Google being forbidden from doing that, it always turns out to be an EU country responsible, it seems.

    We should model US laws after the EU's; but how feasible is it, given the different underlying attitudes about whether an individual or a given company bears the responsibility for protecting that individual's privacy?

    I blame Southern England, from whence issued the earliest European settlers, who brought an over-emphasis on individualism and self sufficiency with them.

    It's that seed that flavors the US business environment. It's that reverence for personal accountability that fuels the rampant sneering at people deemed too dumb to protect themselves on Facebook.

    The people who stayed in Europe, instead of splashing across the pond, for the most part think it's fair to prevent companies from exploiting people's naïveté around things like giving away private details.

    IMHO, that is.

  7. njorl · 784 days ago

    A few months ago, one Facebook friend invited me to try "Branch Out", an application that appears to add some facilities similar to those of Linked In, to Facebook. It seemed interesting, but I noticed that it was going to claim access to "friends' profile info: education histories, locations and work histories".

    Needless to say, I rejected Branch Out; some of my Facebook "friends" are actually friends.

  8. Odhiambo · 784 days ago

    Money is really making people do drastic things.

    All in all, we ought to be cautious in what we post or choose to play, more so those facebook games and apps which can easily be employed be malicious people to take without consent your details to us in either steal from you or harm you or your family member or close person.

    We need to be discreet when dealinm with the internet.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.