Facebook strikes German privacy deal
Members get say on sharing
BERLIN — Facebook said yesterday it had reached a deal with German data protection officials in a dispute over unsolicited invitations sent to nonmembers of the social networking site through its “Friend Finder’’ feature.
The feature, which allows Facebook to send e-mail invitations to potential users through current members’ address books, has come under fire in Germany for violating privacy laws by allowing unauthorized access to the information of third parties.
The data protection authority in Hamburg said yesterday it agreed with Facebook to a 14-point plan that would give members more control over the e-mail address books they choose to share with the site — including allowing Facebook users to choose who should receive an invitation to join the site and adding an additional warning message before it can be sent.
Johannes Caspar, the data protection official in Hamburg who negotiated the deal for the Germans, said the changes are aimed at protecting nonmembers whose information was being used without their consent for purposes beyond connecting them with friends.
“The use of e-mail addresses by third parties is only possible under certain regulations and only for the purpose of finding friends — that was the most heavily disputed point,’’ Caspar said. “Facebook agreed that in the future it will not use these addresses for something that has nothing to do with finding friends.’’
Facebook said in a statement the company welcomed the deal but declined to give any further information, including whether the changes were limited to Germany.
“We are pleased that we have come to a solution with the Hamburg Data Protection Authority regarding concerns about Friend-Finder and look forward to continue our constructive discussions and dialogue in the future,’’ it said in an e-mail statement.
Last year, Caspar opened legal proceedings against Facebook over concerns it was misusing private information of third parties. He said the lawsuit remains open, but indicated authorities could be willing to drop it depending upon how well the points are implemented.
Facebook has jumped in popularity among Germans in recent years. The company says it now has 15 million active users in the country.
“Facebook is a large social network that consequently raises many questions about data security,’’ Caspar said. “We’ll certainly have one application or another that we’ll need to discuss.’’