Facebook abuses market power with data collection from multiple sites, Germany says

07 February 2019 00:00 by Matthew Newman

Facebook has abused its market power by making the use of its social network conditional on the collection of user data from multiple sources, the German competition authority said today.

While Facebook won’t have to pay a fine, it will have to change the way it collects data from users in Germany. The authority said that Facebook can only use data from other sources if it has users' "voluntary consent."

If consent is not given, "Facebook will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data," the authority said. Facebook was ordered to develop plans to make this possible.

The Bundeskartellamt’s probe of Facebook has been closely watched because it’s one of the first cases in which complex issues involving Big Data and competition law are colliding.

The decision isn't final, and Facebook has one month to file an appeal.

Under the decision, 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," the authority said.

The German authority found that Facebook gathers data from social networking services WhatsApp and Instagram, which it owns, as well as third-party apps and websites, without users’ knowledge or agreement. This is a breach of German data-protection rules, the authority said.

"By combining data from its own website, company-owned services and the analysis of third-party websites, Facebook obtains very detailed profiles of its users and knows what they are doing online,” Andreas Mundt, the authority's president, said in the statement.

Facebook also abused its market power by merging data from users’ Facebook accounts with information taken from these other sites, the Bundeskartellamt said.

Facebook said in a statement that it will appeal the decision.

The company said the German authority has misinterpreted its compliance with EU data-protection rules and overlooked how it actually processes data.

Facebook, whose EU base is in Ireland, said that under EU rules the Irish data protection authority should ensure its compliance with data-protection regulations, not the Bundeskartellamt.

The social network has also argued that its popularity in Germany doesn't mean that it has market dominance, and it’s just “one part of how people interact.”

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