German dis-'Like' prompts ridicule, presages more EU restrictions on web services
U.S. companies already threading mazes to move data will have an even more convoluted path.
Jokes based on ethnic stereotypes are wrong.
Not necessarily in a moral sense, though often that's true.
From a purely pedantic, editorial fact-checking point of view, most just don't stand up to examination.
Every once in a while you find one that seems not only accurate, but endorsed and actively supported by the ethnic group being ridiculed.
Take the Germans.
German officials explaining the decision barked something about it having to do with privacy.
The real reason was explicable only to English bigots with an anti-teutonic bias and those Americans who spent an unwise number of hours absorbing enough second-rate British comedy to understand all the jokes about humorless, overly literal Prussians. ("Zey say 'it is funny, because eet ees true. Zat punchline vas not true. Zerefore, it vas not vunny.")
Officials in the German Data Protection Commissioner's office of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein announced Friday that "all institutions" have to "shut down their fan pages on Facebook and remove social plug-ins such as the 'like' button form their Web sites."
Both content and traffic-analysis data from Facebook pages maintained by Germans go back to data centers in the U.S., but Facebook does not provide enough information about where the data are or what happens to it to ensure it isn't violating German privacy laws, according to the Data Protection Commission
Not only is "like-"ing verboten, there are consequences: Organizations that haven't shed their "like" by the end of September can be fined up to the equivalent of $72,000.
Individuals who "visit Facebook.com or use[s] a plug-in must expect that he or she will be tracked by the company for two years."
(It's impossible to read that sentence out loud without adopting a cheesy, Hogan's Heroes-ish CHH-urrrmen agg-sent, by the way, so don't even try to avoid it.)
The rules affect only the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, in Germany's far north, at the base of the Jutland Peninsula, former home of the warring Angles and Jutes, jumping-off point for Viking raids on Northern Europe and invasion of what was not yet Russia, but would be after Vikings called it that , and environmental setting for many of the most action-packed, bloody, violent, dramatic, completely unreadable sagas of early college Literature review courses.
It doesn't cover, so far, the rest of Germany and, according to Facebook, reflects a misunderstanding of how the "like" button works.
Clicking on the "Like" doesn't send personal information to U.S.-based servers if the user is not signed in to Facebook already, according to Facebook spokespeople. Only the IP address is recorded, Facebook views that only in aggregate, and Facebook erases even that after 90 days.
“The only time ‘Like’ button information is associated with a particular person is when you are signed into Facebook and click,” according to Carl Sjogreen product manager for Facebook, as quoted in Buzzmachine. "If you are signed into Facebook when you visit a site with the “Like” button, obviously, Facebook’s servers will act on knowing who you are because it will tell you which of your friends also publicly liked this site," Sjogreen said.
Being signed in is equivalent to consent under most European privacy laws, but neither Germans nor the rest of Europe limits its concern to information about non-members.
In what The Atlantic described as Germany's War on Facebook, in 2010 a government agency in the central-German city of Hamburg launched an investigation into how Facebook handles personal data posted by members about non-members.
Earlier this month the same agency launched an investigation into Facebook's plan to offer facial recognition of posted photos. Other European Union countries are also investigating the issue.
Facebook is defending itself, though primarily through a statement released by company spokesman Patrick Noyes, rather than snarky updates on its Fan page:
"We firmly reject any assertion that Facebook is not compliant with EU data protection standards," the announcement read. “The Facebook Like button is such a popular feature because people have complete control over how their information is shared through it," "For more than a year, the plugin has brought value to many businesses and individuals every day. We will review the materials produced by the ULD, both on our own behalf and on the behalf of web users throughout Germany.”
Sensitivity about private data is already restricting both web services and social networks in Germany, though.
In May Google decided not to expand its Street View map feature in Germany after government agencies complained the company would be exhibiting pictures of people's homes without their consent. After 240,000 people opted out of having their houses included in pictures, Google cancelled the expansion.
In an EU increasingly leery about the comparatively loose way U.S. companies handle personal data (and the increasing potential to have it hacked), it's not just social-networking companies that will be facing an increasingly convoluted legal path.
SAAS and cloud-computing services that replicate data to more than one country, sometimes without the knowledge of their customers, data sets that must be restricted to greater and greater degrees to keep specific bits from leaving the geographic regions in which their owners live and the increased cost of managing, dividing, storing and documenting the lifecycle of that data will increase the cost and difficulty of doing anything datacentric in Europe.
Imagine Sarbanes-Oxley-like rules requiring companies to not only treat different bits of data according to sets of policies appropriate to the correct state of the correct country of its origin, but also documenting that each data bit was treated properly throughout its lifecycle, including where it was physically located, by what apps and in what countries conclusions based partly on that data were used and what the impact was on the potential that data might be stolen, misused or released accidentally.
EU laws are already moving in that direction, though none are that extreme. As data and corporate data infrastructures become more virtualized, however, Europe's move toward more controls based on specific geographic rules and boundaries is bound to get more difficult and expensive.
So even if dis-"like" did come out of some peculiarly repressive Prussian thing, dislike of Facebook and business plans built on making money from other people's private information apparently is not, however much snotty, Teutonophobic abuse flows toward Jutland for banning the button.