Facebook is once again changing its policies — and once again, the Germans don't like it.
Last week, Facebook announced proposed language changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR), the legal document that all Facebook users agree to abide by when they sign up for the social-networking service.
(Only "fans" of the Facebook governance page received that announcement, and one proposed change is that you'll only need to "like" that page to get the next round of changes.)
Facebook invited members to comment on the proposed changes before they went into effect, and gave them copies of the proposed SRR in nine different languages.
By the end of the weeklong comment period yesterday (March 22), 37,872 comments had been received.
Nein! Nein! Nein!
More than 97 percent of the comments — 36,875, to be precise — came from German-language speakers, and almost all of those comments consisted of a single sentence: "Ich lehne die Änderungen ab," or "I reject the changes."
The identical statement indicates that most German-speaking respondents had been coached to use it as part of an organized popular campaign. (The German sentence also popped up several times on the English-language comment page.) That may say more about German attitudes toward privacy than it does about Facebook.
SecurityNewsDaily has read an English-only PDF outlining the changes to the Facebook SRR, and we can tell you that most of the proposed changes are either cosmetic or actually clarify things that were previously somewhat obscure. (The request-for-comment pages showed only the proposed document, without indicating the changed language.)
That may seem like Orwellian doublespeak, but when you consider that Facebook is in the business of selling the personal data that its 850 million members freely provide to the company, it's perhaps also more honest.
After the German speakers, the next-largest group of respondents was of English speakers, who had 526 comments, most of them also negative.
Surprisingly, many of the 186 Spanish-language commenters were happy about the changed language. Many of the 98 Italian commenters agreed with the changes only in part. Many of the 96 French responders complained that the document was too long. (A few dozen people replied in Portuguese and Turkish, and none at all in Japanese or Korean.)
'Datenschutz' sounds tougher than 'privacy'
So what's up with the Germans? Well, as both Facebook and Google have found out, many Germans have a much more expansive notion of personal privacy than do residents of the Anglosphere. Some of this has to do with traumatic memories of the Nazi and Communist secret police.
Last year, Google ended its Google Street View efforts in Germany after constant public outcry, despite a court ruling deeming it legal and the creation of a program that let homeowners remove images of their homes from the service.
By contrast, under Anglo-American notions of privacy, anything that's visible from the street is not private.
German authorities have been giving Facebook similar grief. On Wednesday (March 21), the same two governmental privacy watchdogs in northern Germany who led the campaign against Google Street View issued a joint statement blasting the proposed changes to the Facebook SRR.
Facebook has already acknowledged the differences between American and German law by setting up a special page of legal provisions that apply to Germany only. (Facebook may want to consider extending those provisions to Austria, the "other" Germany, which has produced Max Schrems, possibly Facebook's single most vocal critic.)
Perhaps German users will quit Facebook en masse — they can do so here — and perhaps an alternative social-networking service will be created for them. But until then, it seems likely that German Internet users will continue to use Mark Zuckerberg's creation, and complain about it as well.