Facebook App Center Breaks Law: Privacy Group

Dennis Faas's picture

A privacy protection group based in Germany is threatening court action against Facebook.

The group says the social networking site's new "App Center" feature doesn't give users enough information about how their personal data will be shared with software developers.

The complaint comes from the Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (VZBV), which translates as the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. The VZBV is made up of consumer groups based throughout Germany.

The VZBV is most concerned with Facebook's App Center, which launched in July, and which covers the various smartphone-style applications that users can access via Facebook itself. The best known apps include games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars.

The App Center works like any smartphone app store: it lets users search for applications and install them directly, rather than having to manually hunt down the relevant webpage and then load the app onto their smartphone.

Concern About Personal Data Sharing

VZBV's is concerned about the way users are told what information from their account will be revealed to the app developer. This information could involve the user's date of birth, phone number, or home address.

Using the app may also require giving the developer the ability to post messages directly to the user's Facebook profile page, where they can be seen by the user's friends.

Under the old system, the user was asked to navigate a list of permissions and agree to their personal information being used in this way. This method helps users make informed choices about how their personal data may be used.

The App Center offers a different process. Users are no longer required to view and interact with the permissions list, which now appears at the bottom of the screen in a light gray typeface that VZBV says is easy to miss. (Source: zdnet.com)

Facebook No Longer Explicit Enough

VZBV believes the new process is too vague. It charges that by making the permissions less visible, Facebook is no longer abiding by German law, which requires any company collecting data in Germany to first acquire the explicit consent of users.

VZBV says if Facebook doesn't improve the process by September 4, 2012, it will initiate court action. Facebook now says it is looking into the complaint but isn't yet ready to comment on it. (Source: vzbv.de)

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