Facebook's data collection practices are once again the source of controversy, as a German authority recently asserted the social network's "Like" button violates European laws.
Thilo Weichert, data protection commissioner of the German state Schlewsig-Holstein, has demanded state institutions remove social plug-ins, including the Like button, and shut down fan pages from their websites. These features, he claimed, violate Germany's Telemedia Act and Federal Data Protection Act, because sensitive data is sent to the Facebook's servers in the United States.
"Facebook builds a broad individual and for members even a personalized profile," a statement from Weichert's office read. "Such a profiling infringes German and European data protection law."
According to an Associated Press report, Facebook retorted by stating that its practices are in full compliance with Europe's data protection regulations, but a spokesperson for the social network did acknowledge that the company can see IP addresses and other information of users who visit websites with Like buttons.
The spokesperson added that the information is deleted within 90 days "in keeping with normal industry standards," according to the news provider.
However, in a press release, Weichert said, "Institutions must be aware that they cannot shift their responsibility for data privacy upon the enterprise Facebook, which does not have an establishment in Germany and also not upon the users."
This isn't the first time Facebook's data collection practices have come under fire. In 2007, the social network was criticized far and wide for its third-party online ad system known as Beacon. As CA Technologies then noted, Beacon collected data about users' off-Facebook activity regardless of whether they had elected to opt out of such tracking. That data was then used to broadcast information about the user on Facebook, such as recent purchases and other activities.
Beacon has since been shut down.
Businesses especially need to be mindful of social media data collection and sharing practices. A recent study from Regus found that 43 percent of companies are using social networks to create new business. As sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ because more integral to enterprise marketing practices, customer relationship management and other practices, companies need to ensure their employees are not exposing sensitive information to the wrong people – be it the general public or the social network itself.