German government organisations have until the end of the year to close their Facebook pages after the data protection commissioner found the social network had failed to change its practices to comply with German and European privacy laws.
In a letter to government departments and agencies earlier this month, commissioner Ulrich Kelber said Facebook had provided no way to run pages for institutions, whose feed users can subscribe to by clicking "like", in an EU-compliant way.
Kelber added that partyline app Clubhouse, video clip app TikTok and Facebook's Instagram site also appeared to have similar shortcomings, and recommended government organisations stop using them too until his inquiry was concluded.
"We updated our Page Insights supplement and clarified the responsibility of Facebook and website operators at the end of 2019," a spokesman for Facebook wrote in an email. "Questions related to the transparency of data processing were taken into consideration."
The German government's official Facebook page has over a million followers, and the platform has become an increasingly important tool for reaching citizens who are less likely than in the past to follow the mass media where governments advertise.
Kelber said it was impossible to run a fan page in such a way that followers' personal data was not transmitted to the United States. Under EU law, personal data can only leave the EU for a jurisdiction with equivalently strict data protection rules, something that is not the case for the United States.
The government press office had attempted to get added guarantees from Facebook, but the US company had failed to provide them, he added.
"Given the continuing violation of personal data protection, there is no time to waste," Kelber wrote to the government organisations. "If you have a fan page, I strongly recommend you switch it off by the end of the year."
© Thomson Reuters 2021