Economy

Germany Punishing Facebook for Social Media Dominance

Germany Punishing Facebook for Social Media Dominance

The Bundeskartellamt, Germany's federal regulator of business competition, ruled that Facebook can no longer use data that it collects across different platforms without explicit permission from users.

Kudos to Germany, but it's disappointing that another country should step in to do the job of the United States.

The social media titan said that with its ruling, the Cartel Office underestimates the competition Facebook has in Germany from YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter and others in calling it a "dominant company", misinterprets Facebook's compliance with regulations and undermines mechanisms provided for in European law ensuring consistent data protection standards.

In a similar vein, Facebook will only be allowed to collate data from third-party websites and link it to a user's account only if they have given consent.

Germany's Federal Cartel Office - or Bundeskartellamt - warned the company that within the year, it must stop collecting the data of unsuspecting consumers and combining it with their Facebook accounts. WhatsApp's founders quit the company over disagreements about user privacy.

The watchdog has carried out a probe into the social network following concerns that members were unaware of the extent of the firm's activities.

Apple said on Wednesday (30 January) it had banned Facebook from a program created to let businesses control iPhones used by their employees, claiming the social networking company had improperly used it to track the web-browsing habits of teenagers. Collecting data from third-party websites and assigning it to Facebook would require consent.

Thursday's ruling, though aimed at current practices, hints at potential troubles ahead if Facebook follows through with plans to integrate the messaging functions of WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger as early as next year.

A man shows the logo of social network Facebook displayed on a smartphone
German court orders Facebook to redesign data collection, saying it abuses market dominance

In its response, Facebook said that its practice of merging its users' information across platforms and sites allows it both to improve its service and to "protect people's safety".

"We disagree with their conclusions and intend to appeal so that people in Germany continue to benefit fully from all our services", Facebook said in a blog post.

That meant that a one-off choice between accepting all kinds of data collection and not using Facebook at all "represents above all a so-called exploitative abuse", the FCO argued.

The German agency's ruling is not yet final, and Facebook has one month to appeal to the to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court.

"The Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company", Facebook said. And, Facebook says that the competition agency shouldn't have jurisdiction over this matter.

It was accused of offering a platform for manipulating voters and failing to protect user data. "The combination of data sources substantially contributed to the fact that Facebook was able to build a unique database for each individual user and thus to gain market power", Bundeskartellamt's president Andreas Mundt was quoted as saying.

"All companies in the digital information ecosystem that rely on tracking, profiling and targeting should be on notice", Buttarelli added. With the Cambridge Analytica controversy, and ongoing reports of political interference by foreign groups, Facebook has been doing all it can to show that it is responsible, that it is able to manage and make effective, secure use of the vast data insights that its 2.3 billion users give it access to.

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