Facebook Data Gathering Reined in by German Facebook Ruling

Recently he German antitrust body, Bundeskartellamt, released a decision dictating that the way Facebook obtains, links, authors and uses data in user accounts is an unfair advantage it leverages due to its dominant market position. This ruling comes after a three-year long investigation into Facebook’s business methods by the Bundeskartellamt.

Facebook account holders must, under the terms of service, give their consent to have their data shared across other Facebook application, including Instagram and WhatsApp, and also to having their browsing history recorded after they leave the Facebook platform and visit other websites.

Upon completion of its investigation into the business practices of Facebook, the Bundeskartellamt last week found that the social media giant’s practices in relation to data obtained its services means that the platform users may be victims of ‘exploitative’ abuse. Along with this the Bundeskartellamt also ruled that this practice creates an unfair advantage for Facebook over it competitors as they (the competition) are not in as strong a position to obtain data in this fashion.

The Bundeskartellamt is aiming to stop Facebook from combining user data that it obtains through its other applications with the data it collects through the Facebook platform. This would also include preventing Facebook from gathering and connecting ‘data collected on third-party websites’ including cookie data Facebook uses to profile people with advertising and remarketing.

A representative of the Bundeskartellamt said that Facebook account holders who visit third-party websites are tracked even if just click on any website that has an active Facebook ‘like’ button, whether or not they have clicked the button. Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt stated: “Above all, we see the collection of data outside the Facebook social network and its inclusion in the Facebook account as problematic.”

He went on to say: “In future, 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,” Mundt said in a statement. 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.”

This ruling comes after previous decision and controversies that Facebook has had to address in relation to how it obtains and uses data gathered on Facebook fan pages, the General Data Protection Regulation review into how the group profiles its users with advertising and the Cambridge Analytica incident in the UK.

At first Facebook tried to justify its practices by claiming that is only subject to Irish law in relation to this as that is the jurisdiction where its European Union HQ is based. This defence was dismissed as Facebook conducts business on a local level in Germany. The Bundeskartellamt also decreed that Facebook’s privacy settings page is not adequate for providing consent as all of the boxes are automatically ticked to achieve this. The only acceptable method for this is an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, option.

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