A German state would very much like for its residents to keep their fingers--and other assorted pointers or cursors--away from Facebook's "Like" button.
The state of Schleswig-Holstein has ordered all government offices to remove the button from their Web presence and shut down any Facebook "fan" pages, on the grounds that these things violate German and European data privacy laws. A release from the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection in the German state claims that information collected from German users' "liking" and other activities is sent back to the United States where Facebook uses it to create a profile, all of which runs afoul of Germany's uberstrict privacy laws.
Sites that don't comply with the take-down order could face a 50,000 Euro fine.
The agency goes on to urge German residents to go a step further and give Facebook one big existential thumbs down. It warns to resist the temptation to click on social plug-ins or to even start a Facebook account, all to "avoid a comprehensive profiling by the company."
"Whoever visits facebook.com or uses a plug-in must expect that he or she will be tracked by the company for two years," reads an English version of the release.
Facebook says it has been working with German authorities to work out privacy concerns, and that the case of Schleswig-Holsteing is an outlier. Company spokesman Patrick Noyes issued this statement:
We firmly reject any assertion that Facebook is not compliant with EU data protection standards. The Facebook Like button is such a popular feature because people have complete control over how their information is shared through it. For more than a year, the plugin has brought value to many businesses and individuals every day. We will review the materials produced by the (Independent Centre for Privacy Protection), both on our own behalf and on the behalf of Web users throughout Germany.
Blogger Jeff Jarvis thinks what's really going on here may be a bit of grandstanding by one German official against the big, bad company from California. Earlier he posted on Google+:
(Thilo) Weichert (who heads the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection and issued the takedown order) is a grandstander. I saw that firsthand when I debated him in a panel set up by the Green party in Berlin, where he attacked not only Google but his constituents--the people he is supposedly trying to protect--who use it: "As long as Germans are stupid enough to use this search engine," he spat, "they don't deserve any better." He went farther, comparing Google with China and Iran. "Google's only interest is to earn money," he said, as if shocked.
This story is beginning to have all the makings of another "Rocky" sequel that ends in an inter-Atlantic showdown. Too bad Facebook, Weichert, and Jarvis won't be able to settle their differences in the modern, civilized way--with a no-holds-barred Farmville harvest-off.
Here's a clip of that exchange between Jarvis and Weichert: