Germany Prohibits Merging Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp User Data

Lloyd Doyle
February 9, 2019

If Facebook's appeal is unsuccessful, the company will only have four months to ensure that data gleaned from third-party sources, including WhatsApp and Instagram, are no longer combined with other user data without that user's explicit consent.

Bundeskartellamt said Facebook was guilty of "exploitative abuse" by forcing users to agree allow it to collect data from other Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram - as well as third-party websites through the "Like" or "Share" features, and assign it to a user's Facebook account.

"Users are often unaware of this flow of data and can not prevent it if they want to use the services", Justice Minister Katarina Barley told Reuters news agency, welcoming the ruling.

Officials have been looking into Facebook since mid-2016, charging that the Silicon Valley giant uses other networks - like subsidiaries Instagram and Whatsapp, as well as Twitter and other websites - to collect masses of information about users without their knowledge.

"The European legislator has made sure that there is now a regulation in place that addresses this type of conduct, namely the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)", it added.

Even if a website has no visible signs of a link to Facebook, it could still send user data to the company by using the Facebook Analytics service in the background.

That constitutes a breach of European data protection rules, the preliminary finding stated.

Federal Cartel Office (FCO) chief Andreas Mundt will announce his findings in a press conference at 10:00 am (0900 GMT) in Bonn.

This includes assigning data from Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as third-party websites, to a Facebook user account. On the other hand, the attractiveness and value of the advertising spaces increase with the amount and detail of user data.


The German agency's ruling is not yet final, and Facebook has one month to appeal to the to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. "It is therefore precisely in the area of data collection and data use where Facebook, as a dominant company, must comply with the rules and laws applicable in Germany and Europe".

Mr Mundt said: "As a dominant company Facebook is subject to special obligations under competition law".

It was accused of offering a platform for manipulating voters and failing to protect user data.

The decision is not about Facebook's processing of data generated by its own site, which the Cartel Office acknowledged is the business model for data-based social networks like Facebook.

"The Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company", Facebook said.

'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.

Facebook hit back at the ruling in a blog post, noting that collecting such data allows it to display better targeted ads to its users, as well as making it easier to identify fake and harmful accounts.

While Facebook is still free to gather data about Instagram users and WhatsApp users, this data can not be automatically combined with data gathered via a users' Facebook account.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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