Germany to restrict Facebook's data gathering activities

  • Germany to restrict Facebook's data gathering activities

Germany to restrict Facebook's data gathering activities

Germany's competition regulator has told Facebook to substantially restrict how it collects and combines data about its users unless they give it explicit consent. Mundt announced the anti-trust watchdog's findings in Bonn, Germany, Thursday.

The company now collects data on users' activities on Facebook and the other apps it owns, along with third-party websites.

While Facebook is less widely used in Germany than in some other western countries, it has 32 million monthly active users in a population of 83 million and controls more than 95 per cent of the country's social media. In...

"In the authority's assessment, Facebook's conduct represents above all a so-called exploitative abuse", said the Bundeskartellamt, or Federal Cartel Office.

In its order, the Cartel Office said it would only be possible to assign data from WhatsApp or Instagram to Facebook subject to the voluntary consent of users. Users are more likely to stay within Facebook's properties if they can easily message their friends across different services, rather than having to switch between Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. It adds that the integration of Facebook interfaces also allows the company to track people's online behavior, "even if they are not logged into or registered with Facebook". Many users hailed the decision as the first step to reining in the social network's excesses.

"If I understand things correctly, this move would intensify the pooling of data", said Mundt.

In January, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg defended his company in the worldwide media, saying its advertising-based business model required collecting personal data.

Facebook, however, says this is not the case.

"The GDPR specifically empowers data protection regulators - not competition authorities - to determine whether companies have lived up to their responsibilities", it said.

Officials have been looking into Facebook since mid-2016, charging that the Silicon Valley giant uses other networks - like subsidiaries Instagram and Whatsapp, as well as Twitter and other websites - to collect masses of information about users without their knowledge. Essentially, if Facebook combines its messaging services so that they are different in name and design only, it will be much more hard, if not impossible, to then separate out and spin off Instagram and WhatsApp as separate companies.

It is not enough, Mundt said, for Facebook to require that consent as part of its terms of service.

The findings follow fierce scrutiny of Facebook over a series of privacy lapses, including the leak of data on tens of millions of Facebook users, as well as the extensive use of targeted ads by foreign powers seeking to influence elections in the United States.

In its response, Facebook said that its practice of merging its users' information across platforms and sites allows it both to improve its service and to "protect people's safety".

Facebook on Thursday announced that businesses and organizations using Facebook Pages will be able to respond to Instagram Direct Messages from their Facebook Page inbox. It should develop proposals to do this within 12 months, subject to the outcome of appeal proceedings at the Duesseldorf Higher Regional Court that should be filed within a month.