A ruling issued in Germany has accused Facebook, the largest social network of the world, of abusing its dominant position in the market to amass user information without gaining consent from them. This was followed by the social media platform being asked to curb its data collection practices in Germany.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal which came to light last year involving the London based analytics firm and Facebook triggered a global backlash against the social media company and Germany was at the forefront of that move in Europe. Personal information of millions of American Facebook users were collected and allegedly used during the 2016 presidential election in the country in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The manner in which Facebook gathers user data from third-party apps which includes its own applications WhatsApp and Instagram was critically and severely objected to by Germany’s antitrust watchdog. The agency also pulled up Facebook for allegedly tracking people online through its ‘like’ or ‘share’ buttons and includes even those who are not members of the social media platform.
The ruling against Facebook was welcomed by the German government.
“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 accounts,” Federal Cartel Office chief Andreas Mundt said.
The US based social media giant said that the ruling would be appealed against. The ruling followed a three year investigation. Facebook said that the competition that it faced had been underestimated by the regulator and the ruling was against the greater privacy rules implementable across Europe.
“We disagree with their conclusions and intend to appeal so that people in Germany continue to benefit fully from all our services,” Facebook said in a blog post.
Voluntary consent from users would be necessary for Facebook to take for the company aggregating from third party apps and that the company would only be able to transfer data from WhatsApp or Instagram to its main Facebook app accounts. User consent would also be necessary for Facebook to collect users’ data from third-party websites and then using it on Facebook.
Further, the entire process of collection and combining of data by Facebook would also have to substantially restricted if there is no consent from users. The social media company now has 12 months to come out with proposals to adhere to the ruling unless there is a different outcome from the appeal which the company has ot file at the Duesseldorf Higher Regional Court within the next one month. Fines of up to 10 percent of the company’s annual global revenues would be imposed by the German regulator in case Facbook does not comply with the ruling. The revenues of the company touched $55.8 billion last year marking a 37 per cent growth.
The German the Cartel Office ruling had potentially far-reaching implications, said antitrust lawyer Thomas Vinje, a partner at Clifford Chance in Brussels. “This is a landmark decision,” he told the media in an interview. “It’s limited to Germany but strikes me as exportable and might have a significant impact on Facebook’s business model.”
(Adapted from Reuters.com)