Data Gathering Methods Of Facebook Restricted By Germany’s Watchdog

The manner in which the tech giant Facebook may profile people has been severely criticized by Germany’s competition authority in what is being viewed by analysts as a clear challenge to the business model of the largest social media platform of the world.

Germany’s competition authority has said that the users of Facebook have the right to decide on whether to give permission to the tech company about using their Facebook information to combine with data derived from the activity of the users on other websites and platforms.

The dominant position of Facebook in the German market had been unethically exploited by the company, the German agency has said in an antitrust argument, by enticing its users to give up their personal data. According to the regulators, an all-or-nothing choice was given to the users through the terms of service of the social network in an unfairly manner. The agency said that the users were asked to choose between allowing Facebook to collect unlimited data of the users or not being allowed to use the social media platform at all.

According to the antitrust argument, this business practice by the company has allowed it to gather user data given not only on the platform but also from millions of non-Facebook sites. The data gathered included personal details which has helped this social media company to become one of the largest entities that has information for personalized advertising.

But according to the ruling of the German regulators, automatic collection and combination of that data would now have to be stopped by Facebook and the company would have to offer a choice to its German users to decide about sharing, gathering and combining of their personal information. The antitrust body also barred Facebook from combining the user’s data on the social media platform with their personal activities and other information on the other social media platform owned by the company such as Instagram and WhatsApp, without talking prior consent from the users.

“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,” Andreas Mundt, president of the Federal Cartel Office, the German competition authority, said in a statement on Thursday. “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.”

This ruling from the German antitrust body was delivered at a crucial time for Facebook. Following a number of scandals that rocked the company last year and raised questions about the manner of the company using personal; information of users, the company’s activities, policies and business practices have come under the critical scanner of officials in the European Union and the United States. For example, the company is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in the United States about the data-sharing practices of the company had violated a consent agreement of 2011 that essentially had barred the company from using any deceiving tactics on the privacy of the users. A decision on that case is expected soon.

There can be far reaching consequences of the ruling of the German antitrust authority even though only about 32 million out of the more than two billion active monthly users of the company globally would be affected by it.

(Adapted from NYTimes.com)

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