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07 February 2019 11:30

Germany to restrict Facebook's data gathering activities

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BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's antitrust watchdog ordered a crackdown on Facebook's data collection practices after ruling the world's largest social network abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their knowledge or consent. Facebook said it would appeal the landmark ruling on Thursday by the Federal Cartel Office, the culmination of a three-year probe, saying the watchdog underestimated the competition it faced and undermined Europe-wide privacy rules that took effect last year. 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. The cartel office objected in particular to how Facebook acquires data on people from third-party apps - including its own WhatsApp and Instagram services - and its online tracking of people who aren't even members. If consent is withheld, Facebook would have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data, and should develop proposals for solutions to do this within 12 months, Mundt said.

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Germany's Federal Competition Office (FCO) said Thursday it would impose new limits on how Facebook collects data from subsidiaries Whatsapp and Instagram, as well as third-party websites with embedded Facebook features such as "Like" buttons. Rather than requiring users to accept that such data can be folded into their Facebook accounts under a one-off agreement to the social network's terms and conditions, users must in future be asked for their specific consent in both cases, the authority said. "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," FCO chief Andreas Mundt said in a statement. "If users do not consent, Facebook may not exclude them from its services and must refrain from collecting and merging data from different sources." The FCO found that Facebook has a "dominant" position in social networking in Germany, with its 23 million daily active users representing 95 percent of the market--meaning there is no viable alternative service for most people. "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.

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"The Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company," the California firm said, adding that "we face fierce competition in Germany" from the likes of YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter. Rather than the FCO, the Irish Data Protection Commission should be overseeing Facebook's use of data as the company's European HQ is based in Dublin, the social network said. Facebook won't be able to deny service to Germans who don't want to integrate data from their Whatsapp and Instagram accounts under a new ruling in Germany BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Facebook has been ordered to curb its data collection practices in Germany after a ruling that the world's largest social network abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their knowledge or consent. Andreas Mundt, president of Germany's Federal Cartel Office addresses a news conference presenting findings of the anti-trust watchdog's investigation into Facebook's data collection practices in Bonn, Germany, February 7, 2019. Facebook said it would appeal the landmark ruling on Thursday by the Federal Cartel Office, the culmination of a three-year probe, saying the antitrust watchdog underestimated the competition it faced and undermined Europe-wide privacy rules that took effect last year.

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"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 accounts," Cartel Office chief Andreas Mundt said. The findings follow fierce global 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. "Users are often unaware of this flow of data and cannot prevent it if they want to use the services," Justice Minister Katarina Barley told Reuters, welcoming the ruling. The cartel office objected in particular to how Facebook pools data on people from third-party apps - including its own WhatsApp and Instagram services - and its online tracking of people who aren't even members. The ruling does not yet have legal force and Facebook has a month to appeal, which the social network said it would do.

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"The Bundeskartellamt underestimates the fierce competition we face in Germany, misinterprets our compliance with the GDPR, and threatens the mechanism European law provides for ensuring consistent data protection standards across the EU." 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. Collecting data from third-party websites and assigning it to Facebook would only be allowed if users give their voluntary consent. If consent is withheld, Facebook would have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data, and should develop proposals to do this within 12 months, subject to the outcome of appeal proceedings. Yet the Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company," Facebook said in its blog. Mundt said the Cartel Office's view that the lack of any alternative to Facebook and the unequal relationship between it and consumers over the handling of their data qualified as antitrust issues - a view that has been upheld in the German Federal Court.

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BERLIN (Reuters) - German Justice Minister Katarina Barley on Thursday welcomed a crackdown by Germany's antitrust watchdog on Facebook's data collection practices, saying the company was collecting data far beyond its platform. Germany's Federal Cartel Office ruled that the world's largest social network abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their knowledge or consent. President of the German antitrust authority 'Bundeskartellamt' Andreas Mundt talks to the media at a press conference about Facebook. German antitrust authorities have issued a ruling prohibiting Facebook from combining user data from different sources. (Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa via AP) less President of the German antitrust authority 'Bundeskartellamt' Andreas Mundt talks to the media at a press conference about Facebook.

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German antitrust authorities have issued a ruling prohibiting Facebook from... more Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd, AP Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd, AP Image 1 of / 4 Caption Close German antitrust authorities restrict Facebook data use 1 / 4 Back to Gallery BERLIN (AP) — German antitrust authorities ruled Thursday against Facebook combining user data from different sources, saying it was exploiting its position as a dominant social media company in violation of European regulations. The Federal Cartel Office, or Bundeskartellamt, said Facebook was guilty of "exploitative abuse" by forcing users to agree allow it to collect data from other Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as third-party websites through the "Like" or "Share" features, and assign it to a user's Facebook account. "On the one hand there is a service provided to users free of charge," Cartel Office president Andreas Mundt said. It is therefore precisely in the area of data collection and data use where Facebook, as a dominant company, must comply with the rules and laws applicable in Germany and Europe." If the ruling is upheld, Facebook will be required to allow users to specifically approve data collected from other Facebook-owned sources and third-party websites be assigned to their accounts. The decision is not about Facebook's processing of data generated by its own site, which the Cartel Office acknowledged is the business model for data-based social networks like Facebook. 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. "The Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company," 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 cannot switch to other social networks." "The only choice the user has is either to accept the comprehensive combination of data or to refrain from using the social network," it said in its judgment.