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Bundeskartellamt prohibits Facebook from combining user data from different sources

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Staff Writer | February 8, 2019
Facebook
Europe   If consent is not given, Facebook will have to substantially restrict its collec

The Bundeskartellamt has imposed on Facebook far-reaching restrictions in the processing of user data.

According to Facebook's terms and conditions users have so far only been able to use the social network under the precondition that Facebook can collect user data also outside of the Facebook website in 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.

The authority’s decision covers different data sources:

- 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.

- 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.

If consent is not given for data from Facebook-owned services and third party websites, Facebook will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data. Facebook is to develop proposals for solutions to this effect.

The extent to which Facebook collects, merges and uses data in user accounts constitutes an abuse of a dominant position.

The Bundeskartellamt’s decision is not about how the processing of data generated by using Facebook’s own website is to be assessed under competition law. As these data are allocated to a specific service users know that they will be collected and used to a certain extent.

This is an essential component of a social network and its data-based business model.

However, this is what many users are not aware of: Among other conditions, private use of the network is subject to Facebook being able to collect an almost unlimited amount of any type of user data from third party sources, allocate these to the users’ Facebook accounts and use them for numerous data processing processes.

Third-party sources are Facebook-owned services such as Instagram or WhatsApp, but also third party websites which include interfaces such as the “Like” or “Share” buttons.

Where such visible interfaces are embedded in websites and apps, the data flow to Facebook will already start when these are called up or installed.

It is not even necessary, e.g., to scroll over or click on a “Like” button. Calling up a website with an embedded “Like” button will start the data flow. Millions of such interfaces can be encountered on German websites and on apps.

Even if no Facebook symbol is visible to users of a website, user data will flow from many websites to Facebook. This happens, for example, if the website operator uses the “Facebook Analytics” service in the background in order to carry out user analyses.


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