Data Struggle in Germany

I’m not a social scientist by any means, but it’s interesting to see and theorize on the cultural differences between countries and their attitudes on data security and privacy.

The New York Times today ran an article about two worlds existing in Germany.

One is the strict stance of the government there on data privacy. After World Ward II, Germany adopted strict rules on data privacy  — in an attempt to prevent the government from abusing information on citizens to persecute individuals. For example, did you know that in Germany, if you are a newspaper reporter, it’s illegal to give the full last name of a crime suspect (What a huge difference to an article in well, American newspapers, like the New York Times, where they give the suspect’s name and street address.)?

The other world within Germany is the world of the consumer, ever hungry for American technology and web services that share and sell some information on customers.

For example, while Google is being investigated by the German government for having errantly collected personal web information (such as e-mail passwords) while doing research for its Street View mapping service, the cloud giant and search engine company enjoys a 92% search market share in Germany. Clearly, German consumers and businesses like Google, and many of them are willing to sacrifice some personal information (clearly not information on what political party a person belongs to or whether they prefer boxers to briefs) to access its services. In other examples, there’s nearly 8 million Facebook users in Germany out of a total global customer population of over 80 million. And the Apple iPhone 4 sold out in days there, too.

“What I think we have in Germany is a big disconnect between data privacy laws and consumer sentiment toward privacy,” said Felix Haas, the chief executive and founder of Amiando, in the article. Amiando is a Munich-based company that is the largest online event registration platform in Europe. Routinely, attendees to corporate and other events go online and register — in the process, making public some information.

I predict that we’ll see an evolution of more liberal laws and attitudes about information-sharing in countries like Europe, as the reality of the web and doing business on the cloud confront companies, and as more and more companies there are drawn to the cloud.  On the other hand, we’ll also see more solid security standards being developed if more of the business world is to embrace the cloud with confidence.