German Ruling to Restrict Data Collecting by Facebook

February 16, 2019


Last week the German antitrust authority, Bundeskartellamt, directed that the way in which Facebook collects, combines, attributes to and uses data in user accounts is a misuse of its leading market position. This follows a three-year inquiry into the social media giant’s business practices by the German federal cartel office.

Facebook users are obliged, under the conditions of service, to give their approval to have their data shared across other apps possessed by the social media titan, including Instagram and WhatsApp, and also to having their browsing behavior tracked after they leave the Facebook platform and visit other websites.

After its inquiry into the business practices of Facebook, the Bundeskartellamt last week decided that the business’s practices concerning data collected by its services mean that the platform users may be sufferers of ‘exploitative’ misuse. In addition to this, the Bundeskartellamt also found that this practice produces an unfair benefit for Facebook over its rivals as they (the rivals) are not in the same position to collect such huge and detailed levels of data.

The Bundeskartellamt expects to prevent Facebook from uniting user data that it collects through its other applications with the data it collects through the Facebook platform. This would also include stopping Facebook from gathering and joining together ‘data collected on third-party websites’ including cookie data Facebook uses to target folks with publicizing and remarketing.

The organization disclosed that subscribers who visit third-party websites are tracked if they just click on any website that contains a Facebook ‘like’ button, whether or not they have clicked the button. Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt said: “Above all, we see the collection of data outside the Facebook social network and its inclusion in the Facebook account as problematic.”

He added: “In time to come, Facebook will no longer be permitted to force its users to agree to the virtually unlimited collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts,” Mundt said in a report. The blend of data sources significantly contributed to the fact that Facebook was able to create an exclusive database for each individual user and thus to achieve market power.”

This follows from earlier verdicts and disagreements that Facebook has confronted in relation to how it administers data collection including data collected on Facebook fan pages, the General Data Protection Regulation investigation into how the group targets its users with advertising and the Cambridge Analytica case in the United Kingdom.

Facebook initially tried to protect itself by asserting that it is only subject to Irish law in relation to this as that is the jurisdiction where its European Union headquarters is situated. This was dismissed as the business operates on a local level in Germany. The body also ruled that Facebook’s secrecy settings page is inadequate for providing approval as all of the boxes are automatically ticked to allow this. This must be an opt-in instead of an opt-out option.