Germany says 'nein' to Facebook's heavy-handed data collection in landmark ruling

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Facebook banned in Germany from pooling user data without consent

In future, consumers can prevent Facebook from unrestrictedly collecting and using their data.

European Commission Security Chief Julian King criticised the "patchy, opaque and self-selecting" reporting provided by Facebook and other tech giants following their bids to comply with the EU's code of practice against disinformation on Tuesday (29 January).

The Federal Cartel Office, or Bundeskartellamt said the firm was exploiting its position as a dominant social media company in violation of European regulations.

The office said many users were not aware that Facebook is able to "collect an nearly unlimited amount of any type of user data from third-party sources".

Facebook has one month to refute and petition for changes to the order.

"We are carrying out what can be seen as an internal divestiture of Facebook's data", said Andreas Mundt, president of Bundeskartellamt.

The antitrust agency contends that Facebook has a market share of 95 percent daily active users, though it does not count services like Snapchat, YouTube or Twitter in that market, determining that those platforms only "offer parts of the services of a social network". To come to this conclusion the FCO cooperated closely with data protection authorities.

Facebook said in a blog post that it disagreed with the decision and plans to appeal against it.

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Facebook said it rejects the decision, and will appeal.

The ruling is yet to have any legal force and Facebook have subsequently confirmed that they will lodge a formal appeal.

"We write concerned about reports that Facebook is collecting highly-sensitive data on teenagers, including their web browsing, phone use, communications, and locations - all to profile their behavior without adequate disclosure, consent, or oversight", Sens. When a Facebook account holder engages with such services or sites, data are transmitted to Facebook, that can then combine it with the user's Facebook account.

"It is now time for regulators to recognise personal data is necessary to innovation in the digital economy, and act accordingly".

Germany's justice minister said Facebook's move is "an attempt to create a monopoly" that poses antitrust and privacy questions. 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.

That includes tracking visitors to websites with an embedded Facebook "like" or share button - and pages where it observes people even though there is no obvious sign the social network is present.

Facebook said the German regulator had confused the company's "popularity" with the concept of being "dominant" in the market for the purposes of competition law. "Yet the Bundeskartellamt is trying to implement an unconventional standard for a single company", Facebook said.

"The only choice the user has is either to accept the comprehensive combination of data or to refrain from using the social network", Mundt said, stating that its "market domination was implicitly coercive ..." Users must agree to the terms or be excluded from the social network, a hard situation that can not be considered voluntary consent, as required under the law.

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