Swiss Add New Twist to Facebook Privacy Concerns

Europe taking a harder line on privacy than the United States

View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Jacques Brinon
    Google's Street View cameras are going more and more places, with cameras on bikes and even snowmobiles.

    Ever have an embarrassing picture of yourself uploaded by a friend to Facebook or other sites, and only learn of it in a hungover daze at work the next day?

    Well, regulators in Switzerland and Germany may try to put a stop to that. They argue that Facebook may be breaking local laws that declare privacy a fundamental right -- and have strict definitions of what violates privacy.

    At issue is the question of consent from subjects in photographs, as well as when users add email addresses, names and other details about friends and strangers.

    European privacy expert Joe McNamee said that add-your-friends e-mail blasts, frequent in social networking sites, may violate European privacy laws.

    "The receiver didn't want the messages, and the sender didn't realize they were going out,"  McNamee told the Associated Press. "You would have to search long and hard for someone who would see consent in there."

    Facebook is one of the highest-profile names in a battle over privacy in Europe and beyond, along with Google. While the Federal Trade Commission in the United States has also raised questions, European regulators seem to be moving faster and with more purpose to regulate the explosion of social networks.

    Particularly controversial have been unilateral attempts by the two companies to expose user data with little consent. Facebook has drawn criticism for its news feed, Beacon advertising platform and recent privacy policy changes. Google has received criticism for Buzz, its new social networking service, and some features in Google Maps.

    Facebook does allow you to remove yourself from photos you've been tagged in, but only after the fact. European regulators would probably prefer to see features like that "opt-in" rather than "opt-out" -- as in, the photo wouldn't appear until all subjects consent.

    Companies like Google are working on facial recognition software that could make the process of finding people in photos automated, and it already blurs faces captured in Street View, with varying results.

    Jackson West has become a big fan of the "intake" button.