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Facebook faces privacy concerns in Germany over 'Like' button

  • Officials in one German state threaten to fine companies who use the "Like" button
  • A top Facebook official meets with German politicians amid rising privacy concerns
  • Germany's interior minister says he wants to craft a code to protect privacy online
  • Facebook says it supports "self-regulation" to protect users' privacy

Berlin (CNN) -- Companies in at least one German state could face steep fines for placing Facebook's "Like" button on their websites, and officials across the country are scheduled to discuss similar measures later this month.

A top Facebook official met with German politicians this week amid rising concerns over the "Like" button and widespread criticism in Germany of the social network's approach to privacy.

Officials in Schleswig-Holstein state took aim with a new initiative last month, when a regional data protection agency announced it would hit website owners who embed Facebook's "Like" button with a 50,000 euro ($70,000) fine. Authorities said the button allows companies to track personal data of Facebook users. Officials across Germany are scheduled to discuss whether to institute such a fine later this month.

The Schleswig-Holstein agency's chief, Thilo Weichert, discussed the issue for more than an hour Wednesday with Richard Allan, a Facebook representative and director for public policy.

Weichert told CNN Thursday that he was "positively surprised by the meeting" and said there would be "further talks in the future."

"Right now we do not plan to prosecute a specific website owner," Weichert said, adding that the fines announced by the agency were aimed at forcing Facebook to reconsider its approach to privacy.

"What's more important about such a possible sanction is the effect it is going to have on Facebook," he said.

The agency first received complaints about Facebook's data protection in 2010, Weichert said.

Allan also met with German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich on Thursday to discuss a new privacy rules for social networks.

"I want to establish a general code for social networks that involves rules on data protection and the protection of user identities," Friedrich said in a statement.

Future talks about such a code will be held with many participants, including companies like Google and other social networks, said Philipp Spauschus, a spokesman for the ministry.

"We support the initiative for self-regulation. It might be a very effective way to ensure the interests of internet users,"

Allan said in a statement after the meeting.

Privacy issues are a heavily debated topic in Germany. Over the past years, Google faced protests when it launched a German version of its Street View program. Nearly 250,000 Germans requested that their houses be blurred on Google's image map.

German data watchdogs and politicians have long scrutinized Facebook. Last year Consumer Minister Ilse Aigner deleted her Facebook profile as a sign of protest against the Silicon Valley-based social network.


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