Facebook given one week to stop breaching privacy laws

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.