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Facebook makes privacy concessions in Germany

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Social networking service Facebook has reached an agreement with German data protection officials that will give German Facebook users more control over how information in their address books is used by the service—including an ability to opt out of having Facebook send unsolicited invitations to join Facebook via its Friend Finder service. Under the agreement, German Facebook users will be able to stop Facebook from contacting people on their behalf—and that includes reaching out to addresses culled from users’ email address books.

Data protection officials in Germany have repeatedly noted that they have received many complaints from Germans who aren’t members of Facebook but who are receiving solicitations to join Facebook because their email addresses had been picked up from the address books of friends, acquaintances, and others who had decided to sign up for Facebook. Last year, German officials initially requested that Facebook de-activate its Friend Finder service, and Germany’s consumer protection minister politicized the issue a bit by claiming Facebook was disregarding Germany privacy laws.

German authorities say they will keep their investigation of Facebook privacy practices open on this matter until the can determine whether Facebook’s agreed-upon changes eliminate complaints.

Users of Facebook and Friend Finder in other countries will not be able to opt out of having Facebook sent solicitations to their email contacts.

The agreement makes Facebook the second major Internet company to modify its operations in response to German privacy regulations. The first was Google, which now enables Germans to have photos of their home excluded from Street View.

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