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

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: – thanks for the tip, Pascal)