Facebook fan page creators escape German privacy law

Companies with Facebook fan pages are not responsible for the way Facebook handles visitors' personal data, a court has ruled

German companies are not legally responsible for the way Facebook processes the personal data of people visiting the companies' Facebook fan pages, a German administrative court ruled on Wednesday, allowing the companies to keep using the pages without violating German data protection laws.

The case highlights the uncertainties facing companies and data protection officials when services are hosted or operated from one jurisdiction, but accessed from another.

In November 2011, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ULD) for the German state of Schleswig-Holstein ordered companies to deactivate their Facebook fan pages or face a fine of up to €50,000 (US$67,800). The ULD maintained that Facebook violated German data protection laws by processing personal data of German users on fan pages and using that data for its own commercial purposes. Companies using fan pages were at least partly responsible for the processing of personal data via those pages, the ULD said.

Three organizations challenged the order, suing the ULD in the Administrative Court of Schleswig-Holstein. They disagreed with the ULD and wanted to know if they could legally use Facebook's services, said Marcus Schween, central coordinator for legal affairs at the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Schleswig-Holstein, one of the plaintiffs.

On Wednesday the court ruled: "According to the Federal Data Protection Act, the plaintiffs are not responsible because they neither have access to the data on a legal nor on a factual basis."

The ULD can appeal the verdict, said court spokesman Harald Alberts.

Facebook welcomed the court's rejection of the ULD's order and said its service is consistent with European law.

Schween said: "Data protection is of considerable importance for the economy of Schleswig-Holstein, but data protection must also leave room for innovations and be adapted for the current challenges. This case shows that the data protection issue is so important that it should not be left solely to the data protection officer."

Thilo Weichert, privacy commissioner and head of the ULD, could not immediately be reached for a comment, but before the verdict was delivered he explained that the ULD started its action against Facebook fan pages two years ago. He has discussed his grievances with Facebook Ireland, which is responsible for the data of Facebook users outside the U.S. and Canada, but to no avail, he said: Because Irish data protection law probably has to be applied in this case, the ULD hasn't been able to compel Facebook to change its policies because the ULD is only able to enforce German law.

The German-Irish legal dilemma has worked to Weichert's disadvantage before. The ULD ordered Facebook in 2012 to start allowing its users to create accounts using pseudonyms, because the company's insistence on real names violated a German law that gives users the right to use nicknames online. But in April, the Administrative Court of Appeals of Schleswig-Holstein ruled that Facebook could keep its real name policy in Germany and didn't have to allow nicknames on its platform.

The right to use pseudonyms online is exclusively found in German law and not in Irish law, the court found. Because Facebook's German subsidiary is only a marketing and sales office and doesn't process any data, Irish law should apply in that case, the court said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityFacebookprivacy

More about FacebookFederal DataIDG

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Loek Essers

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place