Facebook Fight in Germany Leads to Battle Over Privacy
Ariane Friedrich, a German Olympic high-jump hopeful, knows how to pull a tough face, a gun and, it seems, a fast one on a fan who sent her an obscene message over Facebook.
Ms. Friedrich, a police officer by training, publicly rejected a sexually explicit overture from a fan on her Facebook wall, in which she named the sender and gave the city where he lives. She also warned that she had filed a complaint with the police.
“There is simply a point where enough is enough,” Ms. Friedrich wrote in German on Saturday in response to the flood of comments her post had generated. “It’s time to act, it’s time to defend myself. And that is what I am doing. Nothing more and nothing less.”
Her stand has set off a stir in a country where the right to privacy is sacrosanct but the laws protecting it were written mostly for another, pre-Internet era. Since Ms. Friedrich made her initial post on April 16, outing her accused offender, new and old media alike have debated the appropriateness — and legality — of her action.
More than 10,000 people have posted comments on her Facebook page, split between those who cheered her decision as bold move against sexual harassment, and those who chastised her for “vigilante justice.” The “likes” on her Facebook page have jumped from 8,000 to 12,000. Newspapers and television have picked up the controversy as well.
Germany has very strict privacy laws that protect an individual’s right to determine whether their name and address can be published. Newspapers, for instance, do not publish the names of offenders, in an effort to prevent them from being marked after their release from prison. Consequently, the idea that a victim can decide to broadcast a name over the Internet is a charged, and uncharted, issue here.
“Something like this is new, we have not had an incident in this form before in Germany,” said Helmut K. Rüster of Weisser Ring, an organization that promotes victims’ rights.
Germany has struggled to reconcile its sensibilities with the speed and breadth of the dissemination of information in the Internet age. In recent years, rights groups in Germany have taken on Google for collecting private information while mapping out cities for its Street View service. They have asked Apple to explain how it collects data for the iPhone, and they have challenged Facebook after it changed its default settings to reveal more of individual users’ personal data.