German watchdog orders crackdown on Facebook's data gathering

Germany clamps down on Facebook’s data tracking

"We are mostly concerned about the collection of data outside Facebook's social network and the merging of this data into a user's Facebook account", said Bundeskartellamt president Andreas Mundt. "The combination of data sources has contributed significantly to Facebook creating such a unique aggregate of data on each individual user and its market power could reach".

The German Federal Cartel Office has ruled that Facebook is abusing its market power.

Facebook would only be allowed to assign data from WhatsApp or Instagram to its main Facebook app accounts with voluntary consent from its users.

Officials have been looking into Facebook since mid-2016, charging that the Silicon Valley giant uses other networks to collect masses of information about users without their knowledge. Facebook users in Germany and elsewhere previously had no way to opt out of the sharing of data between platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, and third party apps not owned by Facebook.

That data then provides the foundation for Facebook's advertising profits.

Considering the control of Facebook on various social media indicative of a process of monopolization: users dedicated to social networks do not have substantially alternatives to migrate if they disagree with the policies on the use of digital platform data of the U.S. company.

People are subject to the data tracking, the German agency says, "even if users have blocked web tracking in their browser or device settings". With judges considering the Facebook appeal, a win for the Bundeskartellamt could at as a springboard to wrap up the OTTs in more red-tape.

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Vinje said it would be tough for Facebook to persuade the court that the Cartel Office's definition of the market for social media, and its dominance, were misguided. Facebook collects information from these applications and the user accounts associated with them.

At the time, Facebook told AFP that the initial report "paints an inaccurate picture" of the firm, stressing that Facebook was not a dominant company and that it complied with European data protection laws.

Facebook has a dominant position in the German market with 23 million daily active users, 32 million monthly active users and a market share of more than 95 percent in daily active users and more than 80 percent in monthly active users, the Bundeskartellamt said. Facebook on its blog has announced its disagreement with the Bundeskartellamt.

According to Reuters, the FCO, which acts as the country's antitrust watchdog, called for a stricter regime on Facebook's data collection practices.

Facebook, however, says this is not the case. However, the collection of user data on Facebook's part has been a source of concern for many users. It also claimed the regulator was "trying to "implement an unconventional standard for a single company".

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new data protection law that entered into force on May 25, 2018. The FCO explicitly states that users expect platforms to combine their data to some extent, and this is an essential component of social networks' business models. And it was done, Mundt said, without users providing their voluntary and affirmative consent.

The practise becomes a bit more nefarious however.

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