Facebook profile of the German Federal Government thwarts efforts to improve data protection

There is a certain irony that the federal government has almost simultaneously launched a profile on Facebook with the change of the social network’s terms of use. While the Federal Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, is backing up consumer organizations with their warnings of Facebook, the Federal Government has taken the first step in setting up its own Facebook profile.

With the changes in the terms of use, Facebook has massively expanded its ability to analyze the data of users. Data is also stored which is left behind by users on pages outside of Facebook for use in targeted advertising and possibly other purposes. On the other hand, the user has the possibility of better managing personal settings for his/her own privacy. The bottom line: it remains clear that Facebook is collecting even more data in a hard to control manner.

Like Federal Minister of Justice Maas says, "Users do not know which data is being collected or how it is being used."

For this reason alone, it is difficult to understand why the Federal Government is taking this step right at this moment. After all, it has been able to do its work so far without Facebook.

With its Facebook profile, the Federal Government is ensuring that Facebook is, for example, indirectly receiving information on the political interests and preferences of the user. Since it is not clear just how this information could be used today or in the future, it is a questionable step.

If one considers the Facebook business model, it can also have an imminent negative impact. Facebook's main source of income is from targeted advertising based on the information that the company has collected on its users. With the additional information that will be available via the Federal Government's Facebook profile, for example, interest groups can, in the future, selectively advertise on Facebook to track their goals.

Here it is apparent, as with many businesses, that the implications of commercial Facebook profiles are frequently not understood. On the one hand, there is the networking with interested Facebook users. Their value is often overrated - these are not customers, not leads and NOT voters, but at best people with a more or less vague interest. On the other hand, there is information that a company, a government, a party or anyone else with a Facebook profile discloses to Facebook: Who is interested in my products, my political opinions (and which ones) or for my other statements on Facebook?

The Facebook business model is exactly that - to monetize this information - today more than ever before with the new business terms. For a company, this means that the information is also available to the competition. You could also say that Facebook is the best possibility of informing the competition about a company's (more or less interested) followers. In marketing, but also in politics, one should understand this correlation and weigh whether it is worth paying the implicit price for the added value in the form of data that is interesting to competitors.

Facebook may be "in" - but it is in no way worth it for every company, every government, every party or other organization.

End users have to look closely at the new privacy settings and limit them as much as possible if they intend to stay on Facebook. In the meantime, a lot of the communication has moved to other services like WhatsApp, so now is definitely the time to reconsider the added value of Facebook. And sometimes, reducing the amount of communication and information that reaches one is also added value.

The Federal Government should in any case be advised to consider the actual benefits of its Facebook presence. 50,000 followers are not 50,000 voters by any means - the importance of this number is often massively overrated. The Federal Government has to be clear about the contradiction between its claim to strong data protection rules and its actions. To go to Facebook now is not even fashionable any more - it is plainly the wrong step at the wrong time.

According to KuppingerCole, marketing managers in companies should also exactly analyze which price they are paying for the anticipated added value of a Facebook profile - one often pays more while the actual benefits are much less. Or has the number of customers increased accordingly in the last fiscal year because of 100,000 followers? A Facebook profile can definitely have its uses. But you should always check carefully whether there is truly added value.



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