The German authorities have come down hard on Facebook after ordering the company to stop combining data collected from its platforms, as well as third-party networks, unless it gains explicit consent to do so.
Germany’s competition authority watchdog first started investigating Facebook’s data sharing practices in mid-2016, following claims that the social media giant uses other networks – like subsidiaries Instagram and Whatsapp, as well as Twitter and other websites – to collect masses of information about users without their knowledge.
Andreas Mundt, president of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, the Bundeskartellamt, said: “Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts.”
Mundt argues that Facebook was able to build a “unique database” for individual users and gain market power. “In future, consumers can prevent Facebook from unrestrictedly collecting and using their data,” he said.
Facebook has over 95% of market share of daily active users of social media in Germany, and over 80% of monthly active users, the authority’s research found during a two-year probe into its activity.
Mundt said: “As a dominant company Facebook is subject to special obligations under competition law. In the operation of its business model the company must take into account that Facebook users practically cannot switch to other social networks.”
Facebook has said it will appeal the Cartel Office’s decision. It said: “The Bundeskartellamt underestimates the fierce competition we face in Germany, misinterprets our compliance with GDPR and undermines the mechanisms European law provides for ensuring consistent data protection standards across the EU.”
The ruling only applies to the firm’s activities in Germany, but is likely to influence other regulators. And campaign group Privacy International said that if the German ruling holds, Facebook should extend the same rights to its other users.
In a statement, it said: “Privacy harms are directly caused by the business models of companies in dominant positions, which can impose excessive collection of data on people who have become ‘captive users’. Facebook should unify its privacy protections for its operations globally.”
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