Facebook to Appeal German Ruling Against Customer Data Use

Galtero Lara
Febrero 9, 2019

German anti-trust authorities have ruled against Facebook over its methods of combining user data from different sources, including WhatsApp and Instagram.

According to the tech giant, the Federal Cartel Office has misunderstood Facebook's compliance with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) privacy law, which went into effect a year ago.

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

"If users do not consent, Facebook may not exclude them from its services and must refrain from collecting and merging data from different sources".

Facebook, however, says this is not the case.

Recently, reports that Facebook was planning to bring user data from its acquisitions WhatsApp and Instagram into much closer conjunction with that of its own Messenger had emerged.

It also faults the antitrust body for encroaching in areas properly dealt with by data protection regulators under the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a broad privacy regime that entered force last May.

In addition, the company runs a scheme called the Facebook Pixel, which adds code to a third-party site to let its owners track whether ads run on Facebook converted the people who saw them into buyers.

Federal Cartel Office (FCO) chief Andreas Mundt will announce his findings in a press conference at 10:00 am (0900 GMT) in Bonn.

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Facebook did that, Mundt's office said, by compiling data from its website, apps and Facebook-owned services - along with seemingly any website that has Facebook's "Like" or "Share" buttons, or a Facebook login box built into their pages. On the other hand, the attractiveness and value of the advertising spaces increase with the amount and detail of user data.

On the other hand, this ruling is not yet legally binding; Facebook has up to a month from now to appeal the decision.

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.

It was accused of offering a platform for manipulating voters and failing to protect user data. "Yet the Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company", Facebook said in its blog.

"The (Cartel Office) has overlooked how Facebook actually processes data and the steps we take to comply with the GDPR", Facebook said.

In ruling that Facebook was a "dominant company", the Cartel Office said it was subject to "special obligations under competition law" and "must take into account that Facebook users practically can not switch to other social networks".

While Facebook is still free to gather data about Instagram users and WhatsApp users, this data can not be automatically combined with data gathered via a users' Facebook account.

It noted that it had been cooperating with the office in its investigation since 2016, and will continue discussions, but would also 'defend these important arguments in court'.

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