DLD: Facebook COO Talks About Change - but Data Collection Continues

We are not the same company as we were a year ago, Sheryl Sandberg assured at the DLD in Munich. In terms of tracking and data collection, however, nothing has changed for the better at Facebook.

Sheryl Sandberg DLD Munich 19 (Source: Picture Alliance for DLD)
(Picture Alliance for DLD)

Björn GreifEditor

At the Burda digital conference DLD, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg asserted on Sunday that the social network had changed since the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “We are not the same company as in 2016 or even a year ago,” Sandberg assured. Among other things, Facebook has given users more control over their privacy and improved data protection, she claimed.

However, the numbers speak a different language: According to current statistics from Cliqz and Ghostery, Facebook’s tracking scripts are still present on every fourth website (25.03%) loaded in Germany. Only Google has a greater tracking reach.

Top 5 Web Trackers in Germany

Android Apps Share Tons of Data With Facebook

Facebook also still uses APIs to evaluate user activities in mobile apps. For example, popular Android apps such as Spotify, Shazam and Yelp use these APIs to send detailed usage data to Facebook without users’ consent, even if the app user has never signed up for Facebook. This is confirmed by a study published by Privacy International at the end of December.

As a matter of fact, Facebook’s monitoring software continues to collect disturbingly detailed data about the behavior of all Internet users. Being tracked by Facebook and ending up in shadow profiles is still unavoidable. And this is completely independent of whether you use Facebook services or not.

In addition, internet users are widely tricked and deceived, for example through dark patterns: Manipulative design is intended to deter users from strict privacy settings. To be fair: not only Facebook does this, but also Google and many other companies.

Antitrust Authorities Do More for Privacy Than Politics

To this day, neither consumer nor data protection law has effectively curbed the Internet giants’ greed for data. So far, it is only the initiatives of the antitrust authorities that give cause for hope.

At the end of 2017, the Bundeskartellamt accused Facebook of abusive data collection and threatened it with sanctions. According to recent media reports, the German regulator will soon take action against the social network and at least partially prohibit it from collecting user data in Germany.

“Privacy Is Not an Obstacle for Innovation”

Marc Al-Hames at DLD (Source: Andreas Gebert / Picture Alliance)
Marc Al-Hames at DLD (Source: Andreas Gebert / Picture Alliance)

Big companies like Facebook and Google often argue that data protection that is too strict prevents innovation. Marc Al-Hames, Managing Director at Cliqz, contradicted this at the DLD: “This is a lie! Privacy is not an obstacle for innovation. We really have to get that lie out of people’s heads. It’s one of the biggest factors that stop privacy becoming mainstream.”

Therefore, Al-Hames calls for a new way of thinking: “We have to get to the point where people say: I only collect what I really need, and I’ll leave everything that I don’t need at the user’s device.” Cliqz follows this principle consistently – both with its privacy browser and its own search engine, as well as with its business model MyOffrz. Although this makes some things more difficult, in the end almost everything is technically feasible, even when the strictest possible data protection is taken into account.