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Germany relaunches privacy probe against Facebook

FILE - An illustration of an Apple iPhone displaying the Facebook app's splash screen in front of the login page in this May 10, 2012 file photo in Washington. (AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER/FILES)

BERLIN: Facebook came under fresh pressure in Germany Thursday after authorities reopened a probe into the website's facial recognition software which they say violates the privacy of its users.

The head of the data protection office in the northern city of Hamburg, Johannes Caspar, said he would resume an investigation launched against Facebook more than a year ago but suspended in June.

Caspar agreed at the time to let negotiations between Facebook and Irish authorities about the software run their course, in the hope that the US-based company would accept stricter terms for the use of such data in Europe.

Facebook's European operations are based in Ireland.

"This hope has only been partially fulfilled," he said in a statement. "The potential for abuse with a biometric database is immense."

He accuses the online social network of contravening European privacy laws with its system for registering the faces of users in photographs posted on the site.

Facebook, which began using the software last year, had pledged to stop using it on new users but declined to make other concessions, Caspar said.

"Thus the existing database of biometric data, established without the consent of those affected, remains illegal," he said, citing an EU review in March.

Caspar said he still aimed to reach a negotiated settlement with the company, with the "minimum requirement" being that users either give their consent to their images being kept in Facebook's database or they must be destroyed.

In December, Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) said after an initial audit that Facebook had to better explain to users what happens to their personal data and give them more control.

But following complaints that little had been done, a Facebook spokesman said in April that the DPC "did not at any time say that Facebook should amend its privacy policy based on European data protection rules."

The DPC has pledged to issue a full updated report by October.

Germany has some of Europe's strictest privacy laws due to the abuses under its Nazi and communist dictatorships.

In 2010, it took fellow Internet giant Google to task for its Street View service featuring interactive maps with links to recent photos of homes and businesses.

As a special concession to these concerns, Google allowed Germans to "opt out" of the service, promising to pixelate their houses or shops.

 

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