German regulators crackdown on Facebook's data collection practices

09 February, 2019, 13:40 | Author: Regina Silva
  • Andreas Mundt president of Germany's Federal Cartel Office addresses a news conference presenting findings of the anti-trust

He said the pooling of data on particular individuals from multiple sources had contributed to Facebook's market power.

Facebook has appealed the decision, saying the regulator underestimated the competition it faced, and had not considered a Europe-wide privacy rule that took effect a year ago.

The Federal Cartel Office, or Bundeskartellamt, isn't contesting Facebook's use of customer data to target ads on the main Facebook service.

Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram can continue to collect data.

In that case, data belonging to tens of millions of Facebook users was harvested by the British company through an online personality quiz.

If Facebook's appeal is unsuccessful, the company will only have four months to ensure that data gleaned from third-party sources, including WhatsApp and Instagram, are no longer combined with other user data without that user's explicit consent. In future, consumers can prevent Facebook from unrestrictedly collecting and using their data.

Under the GDPR, where consent to personal data processing is being relied upon and for it to be valid, it must be freely given, specific and informed and an unambiguous indication of the data subject's wishes that is stipulated by a statement or by a clear affirmative action.

Using information across our services also helps us protect people's safety and security, including, for example, identifying abusive behavior and disabling accounts tied to terrorism, child exploitation and election interference across both Facebook and Instagram. We tailor each person's Facebook experience so it's unique to you, and we use a variety of information to do this - including the information you include on your profile, news stories you like or share and what other services share with us about your use of their websites and apps.

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Facebook has one month to appeal, after which the decision will become binding.

Facebook claims the Federal Cartel Office has overstepped the mark by pursuing a data privacy matter that Facebook says falls under the remit of another regulator.

"German authorities called it an abuse of Facebook's market dominance and ordered the social network to restrict the practice and stop it completely within a year", NPR's Daniel Estrin reports for the Newscast unit from Berlin.

This decision, despite being limited to Germany, will probably also influence the regulatory bodies of other European Union states, encouraging them to act in the same way.

"The European legislator has made sure that there is now a regulation in place that addresses this type of conduct, namely the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)", it added.

Regardless of whether the German ruling - which would only apply in Germany - sticks, Vernick said the European data protection commission is already looking closely at Facebook's integration plans and the data it collects across all its services and beyond. "Yet the Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company", Facebook said in its blog. Tellingly, the company didn't mention how numerous 40 percent of non-Facebook users had installed Instagram or WhatsApp and glossed over the ubiquity of its "like" and "share" buttons entirely.

If the German ruling stands, Facebook's business model, which is largely predicated on advertising, will need to be seriously amended.

The Bundeskartellamt's ruling prohibits the social networking giant from combining records across the three services without first obtaining user consent.

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