German Regulator Says Facebook Can't Use Data From Instagram, WhatsApp

10 February, 2019, 17:52 | Author: Brooke Harris
  • Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. — File

The finding by the federal cartel office in Bonn is one of the strongest verdicts issued against Facebook by a national regulator and stung the firm into launching a swift challenge through the German courts.

On the company's main site, this could mean that Facebook will need to amend its Like and Share buttons, both of which allow the firm to track a users IP address, web browser type and version, as well as other data that allows Facebook to identify a user personally.

In concrete terms, Facebook could potentially be forced to change its data collection practices for Germany only because the FCO's jurisdictional competence is naturally limited to Germany while its case rests on an alleged GDPR violation for which there's an EU-wide enforcement mechanism.

"Facebook's monitoring under Project Atlas is particularly concerning because the data collection performed by the research app was deeply invasive", wrote the lawmakers in their letter to Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Ahead of a basket of landmark elections over the European soil this year including the European Commission, the social media tycoon, Facebook had been ordered to limit their data gathering activities in Germany on Thursday, the 7th of February, 2019.

The Bundeskartellamt says Facebook users have only been able to use the social network on the condition that it can collect user data "outside of the Facebook website in the internet or on smartphone apps and assign these data to the user's Facebook account". As a result, the office has released a ruling stating that data from either of the two stand-alone apps can not be combined with that of Messenger without user consent at the Facebook end. The company was earlier slapped with a $112 million fine for "misleading" regulators about its ability to match WhatsApp profile data to Facebook accounts.

But the EU's data protection supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli said in a blog post that "we have consistently supported competition authorities taking action to combat abuse of dominance".

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Facebook has 32 million monthly active users in Germany, which gives it a market share of more than 80 percent.

German authorities claim Facebook is not allowed to mix up WhatsApp and Instagram unless granted proper permission.

The company also said the FCO underestimated the fierce competition it faces in Germany from other online services and questioned whether it was the appropriate body to investigate data complaints.

Furthermore, regarding the merging of its messaging service, Germany also raised privacy concerns and has blocked Facebook's Messenger-Instagram-WhatsApp merger.

They add that Facebook's disclosures failed to provide "a meaningful explanation about how that sensitive data is used, how long it is kept, or who within Facebook has access to it".

"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. However, assigning the data to Facebook user accounts will only be possible subject to the users' voluntary consent. With judges considering the Facebook appeal, a win for the Bundeskartellamt could at as a springboard to wrap up the OTTs in more red-tape. And, over the years, companies have become more transparent and consumers have learned more about how digital platforms operate.


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