German minister pens open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, threatens to quit Facebook

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German Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner has written an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, expressing her concerns about Facebook’s plans to further relax data protection regulations on the social networking site.

She refers to the recent tweaks the company made to its privacy policy in anticipation of new features that will likely be launched at Facebook’s upcoming F8 developer conference.

Admittedly, there are a number of questionable passages in the new privacy policy: TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid has talked at length about some of the issues in this post, and a later one in which he foresees a ‘privacy wake-up call’ for Facebook.

Nevertheless, the ending of the open letter is somewhat amusing.

“Should Facebook not be willing to alter its business policy and eliminate the glaring shortcomings, I will feel obliged to terminate my membership,” writes Aigner.

Curious to see how Facebook will respond to her threatening to quit the social network – we’ve contacted the company to find out (update: Facebook statement below).

You can read the English version of her letter in its entirety hereunder, courtesy of Spiegel Online:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I was astonished to discover that, despite the concerns of users and severe criticism from consumer activists, “Facebook” would like to relax data protection regulations on the network even further. Your current privacy policy states that in future user data is to be automatically passed on to third parties. These parties are supposed to comprise previously vetted operators of websites and applications. Anyone who does not want this to happen must take action themselves and use the opt-out function.

I use the Internet every day, both professionally and privately, and am a member of several social networks, including Facebook. Social networks are an enrichment and it is difficult to imagine our lives without them. Networks such as Facebook link millions of people across national boundaries, and it is for this very reason that particular importance must be attached to protecting privacy. As you know, I, in my capacity as Federal Minister of Consumer Protection, am striving to ensure that personal data on the Internet is protected. Private information must remain private – I think that I speak for many Internet users in this respect. Unfortunately, Facebook does not respect this wish, a fact that was confirmed in the most recent study by the German consumer organisation “Stiftung Warentest”. Facebook fares badly in this study. Facebook was graded as “poor” in respect of user-data policy and user rights. Facebook also refused to provide information on data security – it was awarded a “5” (= poor) in this category as well.

It is therefore all the more astounding that Facebook is not willing to eliminate the existing shortcomings regarding data protection, but is instead going even further. Decisions such as this will not engender trust in an enterprise in the long term.

I expect Facebook to revise its privacy policy without delay.

– Facebook must ensure that the personal details of all members are subject to a high level of protection.

– Planned amendments to its terms of use must be communicated to all users in a clear and straightforward manner prior to the amendments being made.

– Personal data is not allowed to be automatically passed on to third parties for commercial purposes without consent. Private data may only be passed on and used for commercial purposes with the consent of the persons involved. Enterprises such as Facebook bear a particular responsibility due to the fact that users, in particular young users, are not aware that their personal profiles are to be used for commercial purposes.

Should Facebook not be willing to alter its business policy and eliminate the glaring shortcomings, I will feel obliged to terminate my membership.

Yours sincerely,

Ilse Aigner

Federal Minister of Consumer Protection

Update: statement from Facebook’s Public Policy Communications Manager Andrew Noyen:

“We’d like to thank all of the users, advocates and experts, including Minister Aigner, who participated in our fifth comment period last week, which resulted in thousands of responses. We’ll carefully review the feedback we received and keep users fully informed about next steps. We hope that Minister Aigner and all of our users in Germany and around the world are encouraged by the openness and transparency we have and will continue to provide into Facebook’s governance. We also commit to continuing to offer easily accessible tools so people can control how they share their information and with whom.”

If you’re interested in this topic, be sure to reach Michael Arrington’s post titled: “Reputation Is Dead: It’s Time To Overlook Our Indiscretions”. And tell us what you think.

(Image: BILD.de – thanks for the tip, Pascal)

  • http://internalreleases.wordpress.com/ kevcampbell

    who even cares? it is 1 person, not 1 million, why has this even been put on here? no decent news today?

    • http://pagegardens.com/ Page Gardens

      It seems only when privacy is absolutely gone will people be concerned. The internet is great, but at the same time it has enabled many developments to erode privacy, like social networking websites and location aware apps.

  • http://maniaravings.com Jaffer

    Nobody’s stopping you Ms. Aigner and your departure will not make a difference to Facebook nor to your contacts who are likely to have many many friends other than you.

  • http://startupmeme.com/i-will-quit-facebook-if-you-wont-change-privacy-policy-says-german-minister-does-facebook-care/ ‘I Will Quit Facebook, If You Wont Change Privacy Policy’ Says German Minister.. Does Facebook Care? | Startup Meme - Unofficial Facebook Guide

    […] good points in here letter, the part of which I am providing below [you can read the entire entry here]: It is therefore all the more astounding that Facebook is not willing to eliminate the existing […]

  • http://www.factoetum.com bruce wayne

    This is actually a very important story as it speaks to the issue of member privacy that Facebook has chosen with out input from its members to re define.

    Facebook will go down as being one of the largest sharecropping schemes the world has ever seen…a sticky honey trap were members are slyly seduced into giving their personal information to Facebook so that it can be sold to the highest bidder with the member receiving no financial reward for the content that they own and have added. In any other filed we would question this activity and more than likely it there would be legal sanctions against it. …

    http://www.factoetum.com/factoetum/List_of_Technology_Icons

  • Slut Banger

    See? Sometimes we Germans ARE funny.

  • CaptainProton

    I dont think this letter will make any change, but as a minister of customers protection its her duty to act. I hope, european union will make a little more pressue than just writing letters.

  • Frank-D

    Some comments from Germany:
    It has become very popular in Germany for politians to defend the people against all those threats coming from those evil companies like Google or Facebook. Polititians in Germany have a huge influence on the media, as some of the most popular TV-Channels and Radio stations are public with polititians, unions, churches etc. being members of the supvervisory boards.
    The media really is enthusiastic about statements like this of Mrs Aigner. Many villages have been figthting agianst google-Street-View, even thinking about some extra-charges for the google cars: http://www.webwork-magazin.net/ratingen-will-sich-gegen-google-strett-view-aufnahmen-wehren/1700
    On the other hand side German polititians (e.g . former Justizministerin Leutheusser-Schnarrenberge) nearly succeeded in controlling the Internet by enforcing the mandatory use of central servers (welcome to China). At the moment there is a similar initiative on EU-level http://www.zdnet.de/sicherheits_analysen_vorwand_kinderpornografie_eu_weites_zensurgesetz_droht_story-39001544-41529792-1.htm .
    Those polititians take the fight against child pornography as an smoke screen for making an Orwell-like Europe. That is what Americans have alwasy understood very well: There are few things more dangerous than “politians limiting the freedom of their people because of noble motives”. Of course we have to watch Facebook etc. ,too. But you can quit Facebook, if you like. It’s more difficult to quit your country.

  • Mike

    Is there no copyright on images in the US?

  • http://noticiastech.com/wordpress/?p=31690 » Ilse Aigner escribe una carta pública a Zuckerberg NoticiasTech

    […] ministra alemana de Protección al Consumidor escribe una carta pública al CEO de Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, señalando su preocupación por los últimos cambios en la […]

  • http://www.eUSB.de Bildhoster

    his is actually a very important story as it speaks to the issue of member privacy that Facebook has chosen with out input from its members to re define.

    Facebook will go down as being one of the largest sharecropping schemes the world has ever seen…a sticky honey trap were members are slyly seduced into giving their personal information to Facebook so that it can be sold to the highest bidder with the member receiving no financial reward for the content that they own and have added. In any other filed we would question this activity and more than likely it there would be legal sanctions against it. …

  • http://www.metasieve.com Björn Wilmsmann

    Ms. Aigner is a prime example of hypocrisy in politics. While the privacy issue with Facebook surely is a valid one coming from her this is just outrageous.

    It was her party that put through a law that allowed the German federal police to compromise anyone’s computer from remote for the alleged purpose of countering terrorism.

    It was also her party that made way for a law that allowed censorship of websites for the alleged purpose of fighting child pornography.

    Interestingly, Ms. Aigner voted in favour of both of these laws. So, Ms. Aigner’s campaign for online privacy is about as credible as tobacco companies running anti-smoking campaigns.

    For Ms. Aigner it seems to be completely acceptable to spy on citizens and compromise their privaxy and civil rights as long as it’s the German state who spies on them.

    After all, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if Ms. Aigner quit Facebook. There is no need for dishonest and hypocritical politicians spreading their questionable word on social media.

  • http://twitter.com/emmatante Tante Emma

    @Frank-D Great comments!! I expect Mrs Aigner to regret that open letter and mourn her reputation without delay;-))

  • Mario

    From my point of view, the problem is not that one person is going to ‘leave facebook’, the problem is tha no one else is reading the implications in the privacy policy to come, do I care if a third party takes my personal information? I do!!!

  • http://community.ecmta.org/blogs/news/archive/2010/04/05/german-official-objects-to-facebook-privacy-changes.aspx German Official Objects To Facebook Privacy Changes - News: Everything-e

    […] Germany's Federal Minister of Consumer Protection is not at all happy with Facebook.  Indeed, in a new open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Ilse Aigner condemned proposed changes to Facebook's privacy policy, and threatened to quit the social network if her concerns aren't addressed. Specifically, Aigner is bothered by the idea of Facebook providing user data to pre-approved partners.  According to a translation of her letter provided by Spiegel Online, she stated, "Personal data is not allowed to be automatically passed on to third parties for commercial purposes without consent." Aigner asked that changes to Facebook's privacy policy be communicated to users ahead of time, too, although Facebook already makes the information available to interested parties by posting it on its corporate blog and sending announcements to users' inboxes. We should perhaps note here that this isn't the first time Aigner's complained about an American tech company's attitude towards privacy; she's in fact been one of Street View's most vocal opponents in Germany.  And Google's still moving ahead with its plans to introduce Street View in Germany, so Aigner's uneasiness may not have many significant implications. Still, Aigner – who's used Facebook enough to accumulate around 1,900 friends – did tell Zuckerberg, "Should Facebook not be willing to alter its business policy and eliminate the glaring shortcomings, I will feel obliged to terminate my membership." Hat tip goes to Robin Wauters. […]

  • Josh K

    I agree with Ms. Aigner on this one.

  • Facebook User

    For the life of me, I cannot understand the people who think that something like this is acceptable. Is privacy not important to people anymore? What happens to people (mostly women) who are stalked by making information that was previously private into public information? Or people who might be in the witness protection program who’s info is likewise also made public? And then there are the rest of us “privacy nuts” who like to talk to our friends across the world without it being public? How about doctors who share information for research and medical advancement or just treating specific patients. Should that patient’s information now be public just because and doctor consulted with another person on the internet?

    Just because you as an individual might have no problem with making your life public on the internet (or elswhere), trying to rationalize that everyone should be willing to lose their privacy is wrong-headed.

    Each person should have the right to choose what is private (this should be the default). Yes, I know you can “opt-out”, but since everything is archived on the internet, as soon as it’s public for even a minute there will be a copy out there for someone to find. Changing your settings to private at that point will not ameliorate this fact. Opt-in should be the default not opt-out.

    The company (in this case facebook) should leave the settings private by default and at the very least should post a message the next time that a user logs in about the privacy updates. This message could say something about what info will be made public (in a reasonable amount of time) and if the user doesn’t want this to happen then they should cancel their account. This is not ideal, but I respect the fact that, barring actual illegality, they have a right to do with their product as they see fit. But then the user should be able to choose deletion (of all info past and present) or to move it somewhere else.

    Better would be to automatically disable the account from being viewed by anyone unless the user is logged in (with loss of functionality except for deletion, transfer info, or accept. If accepted (listing changes), then policy takes affect and the account is active. If not, then user has options I stated above.

    Should we all expect our email to be public as well? I just don’t get the argument or irresponsible reasoning behind it.

    I use the internet everyday and even make my living at it, but that does not mean that I want my conversations with my wife made public. Nor can contracts, details, and any information held within be made public. What information is out there has been chosen by me to be public.

    I also have issues with phone companies including by name and address with my number in a phone book and my info being associated with my home purchase so this is not just an internet thing for me. The same arguments made for internet privacy also apply to these issues.

    We need our governements to protect our privacy and I am glad, regardless or past politics, that the German minister made this issue public. Everyone should know what is going on with their personal information and have the right to choose how it is used and where it appears. They, the owner of the information, should have to make it publically available by “opting-in”.

    Facebook, and other networks, and sites do not own your personal information and it is past time that they realize this. If it takes the government stepping in to do so, then I am all for stricter regulations to protect personal information. Starting with government itself.

    • fjpoblam

      To you whose post is “Facebook User” on April 5 2010 at 3:53PM UTC – hear, hear!

    • http://msn.com another FACEBOOK USER

      I feel the same way as the “facebook user”. The right to privacy is one of the issues that our country “USA” was founded on. We so willingly give it away for protection from terrorists and seem quite willing to do so just to talk on a chat site. This is what has become of our society. Its kind of sickening to see people so flip about it.

  • http://www.tradewithdave.com Dave Harrison

    Here’s an in-depth and possibly entertaining post on the social and economic implications of both Facebook’s proposed policy change and Google’s Buzz stumbles.

    The article is titled “Trust and the Trillion Dollar Brain”.

    Heres the link: http://bit.ly/dq6jPJ

    Enjoy,

    Dave

  • http://www.eyetmedia.com Matt Weeks

    Robin,

    always enjoy your posts. You hit on an interesting bit of common sense that everyone seems to be grokking except Facebook. It is stunning and surprising that Facebook continues to appear unresponsive and unconcerned. Let’s explore why it matters to users and why it matters to advertisers, investors and stock-owning employees.

    Privacy is an odd thing in “public” social networks because the very act of engagement means that *some* previously non-public things about users will become just that– non-public.

    The disappointing thing about Facebook’s continued refusal to behave in a pro-consumer, open and forthcoming manner is that they create fear and negativity among the very people they need to attract… the remaining non-users. If they are to grow they must continue to expand their user base– now 400+ million and rapidly growing.

    Almost weekly I find myself being an apologist for Facebook, and helping those in the non-user group (believe it or not there are many right here in Silicon valley and even more in my Wall Street graph) understand how to lock-down some of their *private* data settings.

    Large enterprises -especially public- are in the camp of “don’t do anything if it has the potential of getting us in trouble- and they will continue to sit on the sidelines as long as Facebook continues to build itself a pretty solid reputation as an adventurer and bad actor, when it comes to privacy and trust with users.

    That having been said, the fixes are pretty simple and common-sense.

    1) Respect the users and the possibility that they may not be privacy experts. Explain (and keep reminding them) that what they post is accessible to friends and non-friends, and give them simple (and easy to find) tools to manage privacy.

    2) Serve users, don’t be served by them. Be peer-to, and partners-with users, the way the site started, and the way that all sites and communities work. The language of Facebook’s communications and the general “gestalt” of the site is becoming more “we are in control, and if you users don’t like the way we’re using you and your data to monetize this site, you can just go away… fee fie fo fum…. ha ha — try to find another place to build your social network hehe…”

    3) Understand and respect the age-old PR and marketing rule that “perceptions are reality” for customers. You must hold your vendors, your partners and your own product managers to an exceptionally high standard, especially when it comes to perceptions about privacy and trust. It is hard work, frustrating work, and it never ends. Only by being vigilant in this over time will you build a level of trust and a brand that represents trust. This will translate into fewer firestorms, and consumers and brands (read: enterprises) will be much more likely to trust Facebook, and less likely to believe or pay attention to the background noise that will always occur.

    Today, Facebook is eroding trust, and failing to build a brand that represents trust. Yet it is so easy to reverse.

    4) Recognize (and grok) the Machiavellian fact that trust=revenue and trust=shareholder value. Those of us watching from the outside wonder if there is anyone on the inside who understands why linking trust with the Facebook brand will add value, reduce PR triaging and firestorms, and help expand the user base and advertising base to the next level.

    5) Understand product lifecycle, and understand the issues involved in managing growth of large consumer brands. Yes, FB is now a large consumer brand. Failing to build a brand that represents trust, and failing to take a position of user advocacy, user protection and “peer-dom” with users creates a white-board exercise for would-be competitors…. see below;

    The white-board competitive exercise:
    And it’s relatively simple to do.
    The questions remain:

    -how much will users put-up with, before they start to experiment (“trial use”) with other social networks?

    -how easy is it to export one’s social graph to a “safer, more intimate and more trusted and “ethical” social community?”

    If I were inside Facebook today I’d be asking “what lasting /durable value it there to being a part of Facebook for the five core demographic groups that represent the growth engine?

    -how does this translate to our users being more attractive to advertisers and sponsors?

    In a SWOT analysis, what are we doing to embrace users and create switching costs that are values-based and brand-affinity based?

    And finally, I’d have my team go off and do the ultimate competitive analysis:

    “If we were to create a new Facebook tomorrow, what advantages would we have (tools, other networks, devices and experience), what weapons would we use against ourselves, and what “goodness” and “other value” are consumers and advertisers and businesses *not getting* from today’s Facebook that we could easily, and by fiat “make it so” — that would encourage the most valuable and (I daresay) viral — or influential users to move en-masse their contacts and network to this new startup?

    Would trust, respect, openness, transparency factor into the equation? What would the discussion sound like in the advertising agencies and at staff meetings at the big brands?

    Thanks for the coverage, and keep up the great work. We (most of us) love Facebook and wish that we would see articles and news hits that reinforce our affection for the “place” many of us spend hours “living inside” and that would reinforce a sense of trust, respect and common sense.

    Kind regards,

    Matt Weeks
    CEO
    EyeTMedia
    mweeks at eyetmedia dot com
    650-520-8808
    @mattweeks

    • http://www.eyetmedia.com Matt Weeks

      First cup of coffee.
      Non-private things will become just that–non-private.

      Thanks Robin
      Matt

    • http://www.eyetmedia.com Matt Weeks

      Robin,

      always enjoy your posts. You hit on an interesting bit of common sense that everyone seems to be grokking except Facebook. It is stunning and surprising that Facebook continues to appear unresponsive and unconcerned.

      Let’s explore why it matters to users and why it matters to advertisers, investors and stock-owning employees.

      Privacy is an odd thing in “public” social networks because the very act of engagement means that *some* previously non-private things about users will become just that– non-private.

      The disappointing thing about Facebook’s continued refusal to behave in a pro-consumer, open and forthcoming manner is that they create fear and negativity among the very people they need to attract… the remaining non-users. If they are to grow they must continue to expand their user base– now 400+ million and rapidly growing.

      Almost weekly I find myself being an apologist for Facebook, and helping those in the non-user group (believe it or not there are many right here in Silicon valley and even more in my Wall Street graph) understand how to lock-down some of their *private* data settings.

      Large enterprises -especially public- are in the camp of “don’t do anything if it has the potential of getting us in trouble- and they will continue to sit on the sidelines as long as Facebook continues to build itself a pretty solid reputation as an adventurer and bad actor, when it comes to privacy and trust with users.

      That having been said, the fixes are pretty simple and common-sense.

      1) Respect the users and the possibility that they may not be privacy experts. Explain (and keep reminding them) that what they post is accessible to friends and non-friends, and give them simple (and easy to find) tools to manage privacy.

      2) Serve users, don’t be served by them. Be peer-to, and partners-with users, the way the site started, and the way that all sites and communities work. The language of Facebook’s communications and the general “gestalt” of the site is becoming more “we are in control, and if you users don’t like the way we’re using you and your data to monetize this site, you can just go away… fee fie fo fum…. ha ha — try to find another place to build your social network hehe…”

      3) Understand and respect the age-old PR and marketing rule that “perceptions are reality” for customers. You must hold your vendors, your partners and your own product managers to an exceptionally high standard, especially when it comes to perceptions about privacy and trust. It is hard work, frustrating work, and it never ends. Only by being vigilant in this over time will you build a level of trust and a brand that represents trust. This will translate into fewer firestorms, and consumers and brands (read: enterprises) will be much more likely to trust Facebook, and less likely to believe or pay attention to the background noise that will always occur.

      Today, Facebook is eroding trust, and failing to build a brand that represents trust. Yet it is so easy to reverse.

      4) Recognize (and grok) the Machiavellian fact that trust=revenue and trust=shareholder value. Those of us watching from the outside wonder if there is anyone on the inside who understands why linking trust with the Facebook brand will add value, reduce PR triaging and firestorms, and help expand the user base and advertising base to the next level.

      5) Understand product lifecycle, and understand the issues involved in managing growth of large consumer brands. Yes, FB is now a large consumer brand. Failing to build a brand that represents trust, and failing to take a position of user advocacy, user protection and “peer-dom” with users creates a white-board exercise for would-be competitors…. see below;

      The white-board competitive exercise:
      And it’s relatively simple to do.
      The questions remain:

      -how much will users put-up with, before they start to experiment (“trial use”) with other social networks?

      -how easy is it to export one’s social graph to a “safer, more intimate and more trusted and “ethical” social community?”

      If I were inside Facebook today I’d be asking “what lasting /durable value it there to being a part of Facebook for the five core demographic groups that represent the growth engine?

      -how does this translate to our users being more attractive to advertisers and sponsors?

      In a SWOT analysis, what are we doing to embrace users and create switching costs that are values-based and brand-affinity based?

      And finally, I’d have my team go off and do the ultimate competitive analysis:

      “If we were to create a new Facebook tomorrow, what advantages would we have (tools, other networks, devices and experience), what weapons would we use against ourselves, and what “goodness” and “other value” are consumers and advertisers and businesses *not getting* from today’s Facebook that we could easily, and by fiat “make it so” — that would encourage the most valuable and (I daresay) viral — or influential users to move en-masse their contacts and network to this new startup?

      Would trust, respect, openness, transparency factor into the equation? What would the discussion sound like in the advertising agencies and at staff meetings at the big brands?

      Thanks for the coverage, and keep up the great work. We (most of us) love Facebook and wish that we would see articles and news hits that reinforce our affection for the “place” many of us spend hours “living inside” and that would reinforce a sense of trust, respect and common sense.

      Kind regards,

      Matt Weeks
      CEO
      EyeTMedia
      mweeks at eyetmedia dot com
      650-520-8808
      @mattweeks

  • gpsbox

    some post are just too long. sorry! please make it much much shorter

  • Andy

    Good luck with quitting. As far as I can tell they never actually remove accounts and information contained in them.

  • http://www.project-privacy.org/german-consumer-protection-minister-threatens-to-quit-facebook/ German Consumer Protection Minister Threatens to Quit Facebook | Privacy Working Group

    […] to Tech Crunch Europe, German minister, Ilse Aigner, has threatened to quit Facebook over changes that have been made to […]

  • http://www.noticiasmundos.com/ministra-alemana-critica-a-facebook/ Ministra alemana critica a Facebook | Noticias

    […] a Facebook por su manejo de la información personal y le pidió a la red social en una carta que mejore sus políticas de protección a la […]

  • http://www.ukstevieb.com/2010/04/06/steviebs-shared-items-april-6-2010/ StevieB’s Shared Items – April 6, 2010 at LostInCyberspace

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