Germany prohibits Facebook from collecting user data on third-party sites

According to the German antitrust office, the company abuses its dominant market position and violates European data protection regulations. Without the users’ voluntary consent, it is virtually no longer allowed to collect or merge any data.

Bundeskartellamt vs Facebook

Björn GreifEditor

The Bundeskartellamt has prohibited Facebook from gathering an almost unlimited amount of user data from sources outside of its social network. According to the German antitrust authorities, the extent to which the company collects, merges and uses data in user accounts constitutes an abuse of its dominant market position.

In the future, Facebook is only allowed to collect data from third party websites and assign it (as well as data from company-owned services such as WhatsApp or Instagram) to Facebook user accounts if users gave their voluntary consent. “Voluntary consent means that the use of Facebook’s services must not be subject to the users’ consent to their data being collected and combined in this way,” clarifies Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt. “If users do not consent, Facebook may not exclude them from its services and must refrain from collecting and merging data from different sources.”

Marc Al-Hames, Managing Director at Cliqz, welcomes the decision of the German antitrust office:

It is high time to regulate the Internet giants effectively! Unregulated data capitalism inevitably creates unfair conditions. Just look at Facebook’s messenger WhatsApp: It’s simply indispensable for many young people today. This is where conversations and friendships are happening. If you want to be a part of it, you have to join. Social media create social pressure. And Facebook exploits this mercilessly: give me your data or you’re an outsider. That’s clearly an abuse of a dominant market position!

Google is even worse than Facebook

But that’s not all: Facebook monitors our activities regardless of whether we are a member of one of its networks or not. Even those who consciously renounce the social networks for the sake of privacy will still be spied out. According to statistics from WhoTracks.me, every fourth of our website visits are monitored by Facebook’s data collection technologies, so-called trackers.

But Facebook is only number two. By far the most important data monopolist is Google (or its parent company Alphabet). With Google search, the Android operating system, the Play Store app sales platform and the Chrome browser, the Internet giant collects data on virtually everyone in the Western world. And even those who want to get free by using alternative services stay trapped in Google’s clutches: With a tracker reach of nearly 80 percent of all page loads, Google probably knows more about them than their closest friends or relatives. “When it comes to our data, the top priority of the market regulators shouldn’t be Facebook, it should be Google!” says Al-Hames.

Facebook will take action against the decision

As a result of the antitrust decision, Facebook must adapt its data processing. However, it has already announced that it will appeal the decision in court. The company argues that although its social network is popular, it does not have a dominant market position. In addition, it disagrees with the antitrust authorities’ view that the terms of service and the manner and extent to which it collects and uses data are in violation of the European data protection rules to the detriment of users.

The German Federal Data Protection Officer Ulrich Kelber endorses the Bundeskartellamt’s decision. He said: “After the Bundeskartellamt, I now see a particular duty on the part of the European data protection authorities to follow up and work together to ensure that past infringements are eliminated and that all data protection requirements are met in the future. Companies like Facebook can’t just go on like this.”

But in the universe without borders known as cyberspace, data protection laws and regulation will never be able to form an invincible shield from the omnipresent trackers. Therefore, Internet users who want to protect their privacy have to take matters into their own hands. One simple and efficient step you can take is to use anti-tracking tools like Ghostery or the Cliqz Browser with built-in tracking protection: