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    Associated Press: European Privacy Battle Looms For Facebook, Google

    The Associated Press discusses the privacy issues that social-networking site Facebook and online services giant Google are facing in Europe. Investigations in Switzerland and Germany are occurring just a month after an Italian court convicted three Google executives of violating the country’s privacy laws (previous post here). Now, the Associated Press reports:

    European 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.

    The Swiss and German probes go to the heart of a debate that has gained momentum in Europe amid high-profile privacy cases: To what extent are social networking platforms responsible for the content their members upload? […]

    Any changes resulting from the investigation could drastically alter the way Facebook, Google’s YouTube and others operate, shifting the responsibility for ensuring personal privacy from users to the company. […]

    Thilo Weichert, data protection commissioner in the northern German state of Schleswig Holstein, said in a telephone interview that Facebook’s assertion that it gets necessary consent for the posting of personal information is “total nonsense.”

    “We’ve written to Facebook and told them they’re not abiding by the law in Europe,” he said.

    The probes by the German and Swiss privacy watchdogs are still preliminary and would not have immediate consequences elsewhere. However, Weichert said the issue is being discussed with other data protection officials in the 27-nation European Union, which in 2000 declared privacy a fundamental right that companies and governments must respect. […]

    Google’s data privacy chief Peter Fleischer said he is also “still reeling” from the Italian court decision that sentenced him and two other senior officials to six-month suspended sentences for violating an autistic teenager’s right to privacy by allowing a video of him being bullied to be posted on the Net.

    Vetting all user-generated content would be costly because of the vast amount of data involved, said Fleischer. It could also come close to censorship, because companies would be forced to draw the line between legitimate free speech and invasion of privacy, he said. Blogger, YouTube and other Google products have long been used by activists from Iceland to Iran to document government and corporate abuses.

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