Facebook's German business has run into new restrictions on what it can do with email addresses, giving users more control over what happens to the names on their contact lists.
The dispute parallels one in federal court in California, filed in November. The complaint says Facebook advertised the Friend Finder service using users' likenesses without their consent.
In Germany, the Hamburg Data Protection Office (Hamburgische Beauftragte für Datenschutz und Informationsfreiheit) struck a deal with the company, saying that from now on Facebook has to inform users that if it uploads their contact lists (as email addresses) it can use them to invite those people to join Facebook.
One problem that Facebook ran into in Germany was emailing people who were not members of the social networking site but might know a third person who was. In those cases, they might get an email as well, inviting them to join and mentioning that they might know each other.
Another provision of the new rules is that if a person who isn't a Facebook user gets such an email, they can opt out of getting any further emails. Also, the first email they get should not use their pictures (or anyone else's). If the recipient does not specify that they don't want the email, the next one can use photos.
A press release from the Data Protection office describes the agreement as a reasonable compromise.
The decision on the part of the German authorities will not likely affect the outcome of the California case, which is still pending. European Union and German privacy rules are much stricter than those in the U.S.
The crux of the California case is also a bit different. In that instance, the problem was that using members' photos in the advertisement for its Friend Finder service gave the impression - at least implicitly - that the people who appear in the ad were endorsing the feature.
The California suit claims Facebook is thus liable for damages, amounting to $750 for each time the advertisement appears and damages of not less than $100 million.
Facebook has moved for dismissal of the suit, which is still pending.
This isn't the first time anyone has sued Facebook over the use of profile information or privacy.
In 2009, a suit was filed in California's Orange County Superior Court on behalf of two children under the age of 13, which accused the company of sharing their private information for commercial purposes. Meanwhile, the Canadian privacy commissioner has been investigating the company over its retention of data -- even after users have deleted their accounts.
In July, another suit was filed in Canada, arguing that the changes Facebook made in its privacy settings decreased the control users have over their information and put them at risk for identity theft. The changes, the suit says, were made without the users' consent.