Privacy

by Glyn Moody


Filed Under:
data, data collection, germany, privacy

Companies:
facebook, instagram, whatsapp



Facebook's Collection And Use Of Data From Third-Party Sources Is 'Abusive', Says Germany's Competition Authority

from the informational-self-determination dept

As Techdirt has reported previously, Facebook is having various problems in the European Union because of the region's privacy laws. It turns out that data protection is not the only area where it is coming under scrutiny. Germany's competition authority, the Bundeskartellamt, has just made a preliminary assessment that Facebook's data collection is "abusive":

the authority assumes that Facebook is dominant on the German market for social networks. The authority holds the view that Facebook is abusing this dominant position by making the use of its social network conditional on its being allowed to limitlessly amass every kind of data generated by using third-party websites and merge it with the user's Facebook account. These third-party sites include firstly services owned by Facebook such as WhatsApp or Instagram, and secondly websites and apps of other operators with embedded Facebook APIs.

This is not about privacy, then, but about Facebook's alleged abuse of its dominant position in the German market. The German competition authority is not worried about Facebook's use of personal data gathered directly on its own sites -- not yet, at least -- but the way in which data is transmitted back to Facebook from third-party sites, as a detailed background document (pdf) explains :

The current proceeding examines the terms and conditions Facebook is enforcing with regard to data from third party sources. These are on the one hand data generated by the use of services owned by Facebook, such as WhatsApp or Instagram, and on the other data generated by the use of third party websites and apps. If a third-party website has embedded Facebook products such as the 'like' button or a 'Facebook login' option or analytical services such as 'Facebook Analytics', data will be transmitted to Facebook via APIs the moment the user calls up that third party's website for the first time. These data can be merged with data from the user's Facebook account, even if the user has blocked web tracking in his browser or device settings. In the authority's preliminary assessment, Facebook's terms and conditions in this regard are neither justified under data protection principles nor are they appropriate under competition law standards

The detailed analysis from the German competition authority makes an interesting point about the nature of Facebook's business model, and the fact that its users have no choice about accepting its terms and conditions:

Facebook offers its service for free. Its users therefore do not suffer a direct financial loss from the fact that Facebook uses exploitative business terms. The damage for the users lies in a loss of control: they are no longer able to control how their personal data are used. Facebook's users are oblivious as to which data from which sources are being merged to develop a detailed profile of them and their online activities. On account of the merging of the data, individual data gain a significance the user cannot foresee. Because of Facebook's market power users have no option to avoid the merging of their data, either. Facebook's merging of the data thus also constitutes a violation of the users' constitutionally protected right to informational self-determination.

The competition authority's finding is preliminary: Facebook now has the opportunity "to comment on the allegations and provide justification for its conduct or offer possible solutions." The company has already responded with a blog post by Yvonne Cunnane, Head of Data Protection, Facebook Ireland, in which she writes:

Although Facebook is popular in Germany, we are not dominant. We're just one part of how people interact, and we must constantly innovate to ensure we're meeting people’s expectations -- from designing new features to improving reliability to giving people better controls over their experience on Facebook. If we fail, people will go elsewhere -- as history has shown with other technology services over the years.

This is a crucially important battle for Facebook. If the German competition authority issues a final ruling next year that Facebook is abusing its dominant position through its use of data from third parties, it could order the US company to cease aggregating data in this way. That would be a major blow to Facebook's current business model, in Europe at least, since it is likely that other competition authorities there would take the same line. Facebook derives much of its power as an advertising medium from the vast quantities of data gathered from all around the Web that it collects and uses for profiling.

As if Facebook did not have enough problems in the EU, France's data protection agency has just ordered WhatsApp to stop sharing user data with its parent company, or face fines. Although these would be small under current legislation, once the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force next year, they could be up to 4% of Facebook's global turnover.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 21 Dec 2017 @ 5:16am

    " The German competition authority is not worried about Facebook's use of personal data gathered directly on its own sites"

    Actually they are, in the sense of matching that personal data with personal data from other companies they own / have bought to complete tracking for their ad system.

    it's all about the money. FB isn't about social media, it's about making money off your data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Dec 2017 @ 5:38am

      Re:

      FB isn't about social media, it's about making money off your data.

      Technically, it's about gathering, storing, and exploiting a cyber-fuckton of data from the userbase. Making a profit is just a bonus.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2017 @ 9:24am

        Re: Re:

        It is hard to justify having stocks if you aren't in it for the money. But yeah, from a technical standpoint, it is more of a big data research and exploitation company buoyed by dreams from investers more than a business living off profits.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          MyNameHere (profile), 22 Dec 2017 @ 4:39pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Except of course that they make a shitpile of cash, using the data to sell ads, often using things like race, creed, or color to target.

          Want to rent a property only to white people? Use facebook ads to reach only white people over 30 in your area!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 21 Dec 2017 @ 5:36am

    Definitions

    You have to understand the definition of the word "dominant" - to the Germans, that means "larger than German version of the same company", even if only by a fraction. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2017 @ 10:33pm

      Re: Definitions

      Oh yeah, the famous german version of Facebook called....uhm...

      In social media Facebook has a marketshare (in germany, november 2017) of 64%, next biggest one is Pinterest with 16%, looks pretty dominant to me. Want to find a german competitor? Good Luck, there are none listed above 1%.

      Same things for messengers:
      Whatsapp at 63%, Skype at a distant second with 16%.

      Saying you are not dominant when you eclipse competitors by almost 50% marketshare is a pretty interesting definition of the word dominant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 21 Dec 2017 @ 5:49am

    Different points of view...

    ... it is 100% OK for uncontrolled government agencies to collect and collate all that data; it is 100% NOT OK for companies to do the same...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2017 @ 10:06am

    I wonder what they think about FB gathering up data on site visitors that don't have a FB account, never agreed to their ToS, and use script blockers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2017 @ 8:25am

    Facebook is abusive. It's part of PRISM.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.