Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s national competition regulator, this week announced that is imposing Facebook with restrictions in the processing of user data.
Bundeskartellamt says Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram can continue to collect data. However, assigning the data to Facebook user accounts will only be possible subject to the users’ voluntary consent. Where consent is not given, the data must remain with the respective service and cannot be processed in combination with Facebook data. Bundeskartellamt also decided that collecting data from third-party websites and assigning them to a Facebook user account will also only be possible if users give their voluntary consent.
This decision will impact all services provided by Facebook, including like buttons on websites and Facebook Analytics. This decision can also impact measurement services relying on Facebook data.
The president of the Bundeskartellamt justified this decision with the fact that Facebook is a dominant company and due to that is subject to special obligations under competition law.
According to Facebook’s terms and conditions, Facebook can collect user data also outside of the Facebook website on the internet or on smartphone apps and assign these data to the user’s Facebook account. All data collected on the Facebook website, by Facebook-owned services such as e.g. WhatsApp and Instagram and on third-party websites can be combined and assigned to the Facebook user account.
According to Bundeskartellamt, Facebook will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data, and Facebook is to develop proposals for solutions to this effect.
“With regard to Facebook’s future data processing policy, we are carrying out what can be seen as an internal divestiture of Facebook’s data. 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. The combination of data sources substantially contributed to the fact that Facebook was able to build a unique database for each individual user and thus to gain market power. In future, consumers can prevent Facebook from unrestrictedly collecting and using their data. The previous practice of combining all data in a Facebook user account, practically without any restriction, will now be subject to the voluntary consent given by the users. 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. If users do not consent, Facebook may not exclude them from its services and must refrain from collecting and merging data from different sources.”Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt
The Bundeskartellamt’s decision is not yet final. Facebook has one month to appeal the decision to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court.