Data use restrictions imposed on Facebook

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German antitrust authorities restrict Facebook data use |  Social media giant pushes back against Federal Cartel Office ruling. What? another news story about Facebook? Yep, the colossus of social media is in the headlines again, as governments and regulators around the globe intensify their focus on data privacy (or violations of the same). For the past year, Facebook has been as 'ever-present' in the press as the continuing saga of Brexit – deal or no deal. No wonder so many of us are letting out a bored yawn whenever these two subjects pop up, almost on a daily basis. In the latest round of (probably justifiable) finger-pointing, its Germany's turn to put the spotlight on the tech giants, as German antitrust authorities ruled last Thursday against Facebook combining users' personal data, from various sources, claiming it was exploiting its dominant position in the social media space, in violation of European regulations.

Facebook must comply with the rules on data use

The Bundeskartellamt (Germany's Federal Cartel Office), said that Facebook was guilty of "exploitative abuse" by forcing users to agree to allowing it to collect data from other Facebook-owned services such as WhatsApp and Instagram, plus third-party websites through the “Like” and “Share” features, then assign it to a user's Facebook account. Cartel Office president Andreas Mundt said:

On the one hand there is a service provided to users free of charge," ...On the other hand, the attractiveness and value of the advertising spaces increase with the amount and detail of user data. It is therefore precisely in the area of data collection and data use where Facebook, as a dominant company, must comply with the rules and laws applicable in Germany and Europe.

Apparently, Facebook rejected the decision, saying it would appeal within the one-month frame before it becomes final. If the ruling is upheld, Facebook will be ordered to allow its users to specifically approve data collected from other Facebook-owned sources and third-party websites to be assigned to their accounts.

Troubles ahead

According to an article by the Press Association, the ruling could make it harder for the company to combine data from all the services it runs in order to target ads even more precisely. 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. The decision is not about Facebook's processing of data generated by its own site, which the Cartel Office acknowledged is the business model for data-based social networks like Facebook. Facebook 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. A Facebook spokesperson said:

The Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company,

Sources: Associated Press (full story)Germany and data privacy

GDPRPeter Borner