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German Anti-Competition Authority Sanctions Facebook

March 7, 2019

Finds that Facebook abused its position of dominance in the German market by combining collected user data improperly

On February 6, 2019, the German Federal Cartel Office (the “Bundeskartellamt”) issued a decision finding that Facebook had abused its position as the dominant company in the market for social networks by collecting user data outside the Facebook platform (via apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc.) and assigning this data to its users. This amounted to unlawful collection and use of user data. The President of the Cartel Office commented:

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.

A good write-up on the decision and its context can be found here.

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