German Bundeskartellamt Restricts Data Gathering by Facebook

Last week, Bundeskartellamt, the German antitrust authority, determined that Facebook somewhat abuses its dominant market position when collecting, merging, attributing and utilizing information in user accounts. The German federal cartel office had investigated the business practices of the social media giant for the past three years.

According to the terms of service of Facebook, users are required to give permission to have their information shared with other apps that the social media giant owns, such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Moreover, users must also agree to have their browsing behavior monitored after they leave Facebook platform and visit other sites.

Based on the results of investigating the business practices of Facebook, Bundeskartellamt last week determined that the way the company handles user data makes suggests users are victims of ‘exploitative’ abuse. Aside from this, Bundeskartellamt discovered that this practice gives Facebook an unfair advantage over its competitors since they aren’t in a similar position to collect such massive and comprehensive amounts of information.

The Bundeskartellamt is hoping that it can prevent Facebook from merging user information collected from its other apps with the information it collects from the Facebook platform. It also hopes to prevent Facebook from gathering and linking together the information gathered on third-party websites such as cookie data used by Facebook to target individuals with adverts and remarketing.

The investigation revealed that when Facebook users visit third-party websites that include a Facebook Like button they are monitored, even if they do not click the button. Collecting information outside the Facebook platform and including it in the Facebook account is problematic. At some point, Facebook will not be permitted to pressure its users to concur with the nearly unrestricted gathering and assigning of non-Facebook information to their Facebook user accounts. The combining of data sources contributed to Facebook’s ability to develop a unique database for every individual user and therefore gain extensive market power.

This comes after previous controversies and rulings that Facebook has encountered with regards to how it handles data collection, which includes the use of Facebook fan pages. This also came after the General Data Protection Regulation investigation on the way Facebook targets its users with ads and the Cambridge Analytica case in the U.K.
Facebook at first attempted to defend itself by saying that it is simply governed by Irish law since that’s the location of its European Union headquarters. This excuse was dismissed because the company is operating locally in Germany. The body likewise ruled that the privacy settings page of Facebook is inadequate because all of the boxes are ticked automatically to give authorization. This ought to be an opt-in rather than an opt out choice.