Germany says Facebook’s current privacy safeguards are not enough

4 May 2018

The Reichstag building, Berlin. Image: Gestur Gislason/Shutterstock

German justice minister Katarina Barley didn’t hold back in her criticism of Facebook.

Since the Cambridge Analytica story broke, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the company at large have been heavily criticised by politicians, privacy advocates and users alike.

Politicians continue to ask questions

UK politicians are continuing their efforts to secure Zuckerberg for a discussion and he has already faced US lawmakers to try and explain what happened that led up to this point. EU officials are also keen to get Zuckerberg to Brussels, with many figureheads being vocal about the need for accountability.

Germany has historically been strict with Facebook and social media in general. The company and other social platforms are currently grappling with tough hate speech laws in the country, which have been enforced since January of this year.

Erosion of trust in Facebook

With this tense history, it comes as no surprise that the German minister for justice, Katarina Barley, criticised the company in a letter publicised by national media group RND. Barley said of the company: “Ethical convictions have fallen victim to commercial interests.”

In her letter, she noted the erosion of trust in the platform for its users in Germany, describing the events and culture that enabled Cambridge Analytica as unacceptable.

Barley also called on Facebook to implement ‘privacy by default’ settings and asked that it establish an internal mechanism to protect users from third parties who may want to misuse their private information.

The minister added that she would like to see neutral algorithms, free of manipulation, and a general approach providing users with more choice and freedoms.

There were 2.7m Europeans affected in the Cambridge Analytica data misuse, several hundred thousand Germans were among them.

A history of conflict

Back in February, a Berlin regional court ruled that Facebook’s use of personal data was illegal due to inadequate measures in place around securing informed user consent.

At the time, litigation policy officer of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, Heiko Duenkel, criticised the company’s privacy settings. It is worth noting that this case was brought in 2015 and Facebook has been implementing a vast amount of changes in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and prior to the 25 May deadline for GDPR enforcement.

Germany’s hardline approach to enforcing rules around tech companies is not without its critics. In January, Reuters reported opposition politicians requested the online hate speech law be abolished as, in their view, it was wrong to allow private service providers make decisions around what constituted hate speech. Many called for a different approach to solving the online hate speech issue.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects