Thursday, 22nd September 2011
Tim Buckley Owen
No surprise that LinkedIn is expanding in Germany, Europe’s largest economy. But if the recent experience of its more unbuttoned rival Facebook is anything to go by, it may have to watch its step in the face of ferocious privacy expectations that look set to spread across the rest of Europe.
LinkedIn’s new office in Munich provides support for its more than two million members across the German-speaking area. The region’s citizens are apparently adept at social and professional networking, so it’s an important market for the company.
But LinkedIn executives will no doubt be keeping a cautious eye on what’s happening at rivals Facebook, where European public policy director Richard Allan has just signed a code of conduct to protect its German users’ data, following a meeting with interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich. Privacy has always been a sensitive issue in Germany and Allan clearly thought it prudent to put his name to the company’s first ever self-regulation undertaking (widely reported – see Deutsche-Welle, The Local or ZDNet).
The signing followed some vehement expressions of indignation, directed mainly at Facebook’s Like button. Commissioner Thilo Weichert, of the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection in Schleswig-Holstein, claimed that data sent from the button for analysis in the United States violated both German and European data protection law (see ZDNet coverage) – and Germany’s consumer protection minister Ilse Aigner subsequently urged her cabinet colleagues (in a letter seen by the German magazine Der Spiegel) to ban the use of the Facebook button on official government websites altogether.
But Facebook’s code of conduct cut little ice with Commissioner Weichert, who apparently told the interior minister not to “meddle in things he is not competent in” and to introduce a proper online data protection law. And now the influential European Article 29 Working Party has taken a renewed interest in the self regulation of online behavioural advertising.
Convening a meeting on the Best Practice Recommendation set out by the Internet Advertising Bureau Europe (IAB) and the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), Article 29 listed a whole string of data protection concerns. It also published a letter received from the United States Federal Trade Commission including guidance on the essential components of a successful Do Not Track mechanism.
At the meeting itself, IAB and EASA representatives admitted that their code didn’t comply with new European cookie requirements because it asked users to actually do something if they wanted to stop the cookies working. Not good enough, said working party chairman Jacob Kohnstamm.
Article 29 will be producing an opinion on the working of the code by the end of the year. If companies think it offers them a safe haven, Kohnstamm warns, they’ve got another think coming.
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