Why Facebook isn’t your friend

Author: James Kinsella
29 September 2016 12:06:12

Germany tries to limit the Goliath’s embrace of you


Facebook often seems like an overly friendly date who decides mid-meal to sneak his hands under the table, over the table and all around you. Ugg. Back off my private... data. The social media giant Facebook just got smacked back in another European privacy-related incident -- this time by Hamburg’s Data Protection Commissioner.

Last month, Whatsapp revealed it would be sharing users’ data with its parent company, Facebook. That meant, in Germany alone, some 35 million users suddenly had their mobile numbers linked to their Facebook accounts.

Now, Facebook has been ordered to stop collecting data from Whatsapp users without those users’ express permission. Note to Facebook: at least offer to pay for the meal first.


 It has to be their decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook. Therefore, Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened.
– Johannes Caspar


Facebook’s $16 billion purchase of the wildly money-losing Whatsapp in 2014 obviously valued the messaging apps mobile user base very highly. So of course Facebook intended to extract value from that data as soon as it could.

The German decision raises some real questions about how easily Facebook can realize Whatsapp’s value.

More important, the decision slows the fast progress that Facebook “remarketers” have been making to complete the social media giant’s database of customer information.

That means that, at least for German users, they will have to give Facebook their explicit permission to have their mobile numbers become part of the vast archive of data already linked to their profiles.  

The German move is just the start. A day after the Hamburg ruling, a British privacy regulator indicated it was considering action to force Facebook changes. But these are still small steps.

The new EU-US Privacy Shield was supposed to help protect European citizens’ data. But American cloud giants still get rich off Europeans’ data, even while Europeans lose more control of their private information. Companies like Facebook and Google make billions from the data we knowingly and unknowingly feed their databases.

Hamburg’s DPA has done something about it. So can you.

Step 1 is to know where your data is. Facebook is incredibly convenient to use, but it also is no replacement for a safe cloud storage location for your most important information. And “free” services like Facebook mean you actually “pay” by giving up control of your data.

Companies have a role to play, as well. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will impose fines up to 4% of global revenue if companies fail to protect their customers’ data

Still, 68% of businesses are not ready to comply with the GDPR. It’s time to act.

Are you thinking about your customers’ data? Facebook is.


James Kinsella is the founder of Zettabox, a European-based cloud-sharing platform, launched to address data protection and sovereignty issues for enterprises faced with the responsibility to comply with new EU regulations. A long-time tech entrepreneur, James is a proud citizen of both the US and Great Britain. Reach him on Twitter @jimkzettabox or at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/jameskinsella.