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Facebook facing privacy concerns from European regulators

March 24, 2010 |  5:27 pm

The official Facebook page of Switzerland. Credit: Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press.
Swiss and German privacy authorities are examining whether Facebook infringes personal rights by allowing users to post content, including photos and e-mail addresses, of others who haven't signed up for the site.

"The way it's organized at the moment, they simply allow anyone who wants to use this service to say they have the consent of their friends or acquaintances," Hanspeter Thuer, a Swiss data protection commissioner, told the Associated Press in an interview discussing Facebook's practices. "We've written to Facebook and told them they're not abiding by the law in Europe."

The issue that regulators have with Facebook is consent. They contend that Facebook users are posting content containing non-user likenesses or information without gaining proper consent. The regulators want Facebook and other sites that contain user-uploaded content to ensure that all the content on their sites in no way violates a non-user's privacy.

Facebook has yet to be hit with any suits from the German or Swiss regulators.

The European Union has become one of the more outspoken social-network critics over the last few years. Because of that, Facebook has been forced to deal with several claims of privacy issues from countries in the governing body.

A Facebook spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that the regulators' actions are fairly standard practice, and Facebook often faces questions over how its service operates. The spokeswoman said that Facebook immediately responds to those concerns and clarifies any questions regulators might have. In most cases, she said, regulators are satisfied with those explanations.

"Facebook works closely with data protection authorities in many countries on a range of issues of mutual interest," the spokeswoman said. "We find these contacts very helpful and are always happy to address any concerns or answer any queries which authorities wish to raise."

"We believe that Facebook’s privacy features respect and are consistent with privacy laws, regulations and policies around the world, as well as, importantly, users' expectations and needs," the spokeswoman  added.

-- Don Reisinger