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European privacy battle against Facebook, Google

 9:18 pm on Mar 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

Swiss and Germany regulators are investigating whether the practice of posting photos, videos and other information about people on sites such as Facebook without their consent is a breach of privacy laws.

Well I have always thought there where a hole there regarding Privacy for people who are not a member or just dont want to be a part of the new hype share everything possible.




 10:05 pm on Mar 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

The breach of privacy law occurs when such pictures are taken, not when they are posted. If it was illegal to take them because privacy was reasonably expected then it will be illegal to post them. If someone snaps a pic of you driving your vehicle and posts it there's not much recourse.

It's always good policy to ask, of course, but this investigation should end quickly to save taxpayer dollars imo. By posting to these sites you expressly tell Google and Facebook you have rights to post the material so if you lie... then YOU are who these agencies need to chase.


 12:07 am on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

@JS_Harris: Bear in mind that Facebook is not an american venue, but an international one. Hence the "breach of law" depends on which particular "law" you consider, ie which country.

Where I am, taking photos in public places is always 100% legal, even if you capture other people. However, use of such photos may be illegal depending on the specific type of usage, and consent of model or not.

I'm sure other countries have even more variations.

On the O.P.:

I agree that there is a privacy concern with people facebook-posting pictures of others that may not even be on facebook themselves. However, the legal status of this does not seem easy to establish.

It could well be considered a "private album", and just like your typical holiday snapshot album, people unknown to you may be featured on the photos. So, in that case you could post pictures of whom you wanted.

However, it could also be considered a "public album" in which case, for many jurisdictions you will need a "model release form" filled out by "the model" (ie the person on the photo) - at least if the photo is considered "a portrait". In other cases you may just need "an informal agreement" or "consent" in some form.

Photos on the www is very much a grey area.


 4:40 am on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I don't see the point of the investigation, it's as if they're making up things to do in order to justify their budget.

If they were to find that that there was a privacy issue, the only solution would be to have all social networking sites somehow verify that every picture posted does not contain anyone who has not consented.

Which is of course impossible. So essentially the only possible outcomes are:

A) Ban the posting of pictures by social networking users in Switzerland and Germany.
B) Don't.

Rampant tech ignorance in government continues...


 4:47 am on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

LA Times has some additional reporting on the questions: [latimesblogs.latimes.com...]


 5:35 am on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Good point claus, I was speaking from my experience with U.S. law. On the bright side at least Swiss and German regulators have nothing more important to investigate right now.


 10:30 am on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I also think the point where users spread those personal images on the net is another thing, which could raise some eyebrows, then having them at home on your server/album or on a private online web service.


 1:27 pm on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

If this stops my son from posting pics of me in my PJ's on FB without asking me I'm all for it :)


 4:35 pm on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

ukfinanceaff - good one, but thats also what I mean.


 5:32 pm on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

First of all: Facebook like Google and many other US platforms - has opted in to "Safe Harbor"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Safe_Harbor_Privacy_Principles [en.wikipedia.org]

Which means they have choosen to abide to EU privacy regulations despite being based in the US by their own own choice.

The german law regarding pictures is however best explained by some examples:

1. You take a picture of a building. In front of the building are a few bystanders. You do not need consent of the bystanders to publish the pictures, because they are not the main subject of the picture.

2. You see a guy sleeping on a public bench and you think he looks kind of funny. So you take a picture where he is clearly identifiable and publish it by posting it on the internet.You have now breached his personality rights - not by taking the picture but by publishing it. Because he is the main subject of the picture and you did not ask for consent.

3. You see another guy sleeping on his own balcony. You climb a tree and take his picture. You have violated his personality rights just by taking his picture because he was in his own private surroundings.

4. You see a famous actress on some public event and take her picture. You can publish it because she is what is called in german law a "person of contemporary history" and you do not need her consent.

5. The famous actress is swimming in her pool at home. You charter a helicopter to get some pictures. This is illegal because she is in her own private surroundings and the exeptions for "persons of contemporary history" do not apply.

Personally I think those laws are quite reasonable. But you can easily see how sudden changes of social networks privacy policies can get you in trouble: Putting pictures on facebook only accessible for a small circle of invited friends or family is not illegal - it's like showing your family photo album. However if the pictures of your drunken friend at a party suddenly are public and visible for all you could be in a lot of trouble.

The question here of course as always is: Who is responsible. Only the user who uploaded the picture or other personal data? Or the social networking platform who display the pictures and make money.


 6:28 pm on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

jecasc - those laws also sounds logic, you can not publish anything online, some may not want that, also I would say user is responsible, but I will also say this, that it should also be so that the network can remove images if asked.


 9:28 pm on Mar 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

This might get particularly sticky because of Facebook's "tagging" feature, which associates the picture with a particular individual and makes it much more identifiable. I've been "tagged" in pictures I didn't even know existed. Many of these were probably taken in a context where I would have reasonably expected privacy.

I agree that posting pictures of people without their consent could lead to very embarassing or even dangerous situations. However, given the ubiquity of digital cameras these days, I doubt any notion based on the idea that you own the photons that bounce off your body will last long. On the other hand, I could see how some sort of restriction on "tagging" or otherwise identifying the subject of a picture might have some staying power.


 3:30 pm on Mar 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

True, privacy issues start at the moment the picture is taken, because usually people need to sign authorizations: obviously this doesn't happen in a friendly context, even if there is a fair amount of expectation that the pictures ends up on the Internet.

However, I don;t think it is fair that FB uses the argument that privacy was already breached/or implicitly accepted, when the pictures are tagged.

There is a very very simple technical solution to this: the opt-in. FB should notify you of every time you're tagged, and give the option to accept it or not, and the tag shouldn't appear until you answer it.

Otherwise, I am 100% behind the EU looking into this.


 12:34 pm on Mar 31, 2010 (gmt 0)

it should also be so that the network can remove images if asked

Without first having to register as a member!

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