Facebook to appeal Germany crackdown

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. — File

'Using information across our services also helps us protect people's safety and security, including, for example, identifying abusive behavior and disabling accounts tied to terrorism, child exploitation and election interference across both Facebook and Instagram, ' Facebook said.

German antitrust authorities ruled Thursday that Facebook was exploiting its dominance in social media in forcing users to also allow the company to collect data from other Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as third-party websites through the "Like" and "Share" buttons.

The German Federal Cartel Office has ruled that Facebook is abusing its market power.

The use of "voluntary" here is important because it means Facebook can't try to coerce users into agreeing to the data merger.

Facebook said it would appeal.

The ruling could not only limit the value the company extracts from its own users' information but also restrict its ability to track people without a Facebook account, who now have no way of consenting to data collection. However, the agency noted that while SnapChat, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn aren't included in this stat, "even if these services were included in the relevant market, the Facebook group with its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp would still achieve very high market shares that would very likely be indicative of a monopolisation process".

During Facebook's Q4 earnings conference call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that unifying Facebook's messaging services is a "long-term project" that will continue through 2020 and beyond.

But critics have raised another possible reason - the threat of antitrust crackdowns.

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Mundt said: "In view of Facebook's superior market power, an obligatory tick on the box to agree to the company's terms of use is not an adequate basis for such intensive data processing".

If consent is withheld, Facebook would have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data, and should develop proposals to do this within 12 months, subject to the outcome of appeal proceedings.

Facebook claims that "over 40 per cent of social media users in Germany don't even use Facebook", which seems like an odd claim since 60 per cent market share would be considered monopolistic in nearly any other industry.

Privacy attorney Scott Vernick said he expects the integration plans to draw regulatory scrutiny, particularly in Europe. As well as combining the accounts of people on Facebook-owned companies, including WhatsApp and Instagram. WhatsApp's founders quit the company over disagreements about user privacy.

"We received two complaints against Facebook in relation to the alleged sharing of users" private messages with "partners'", Valerie Lawton, spokeswoman for privacy commissioner's office, said in an email Friday.

But Facebook, which history will no doubt judge harshly as being a net negative for humanity, is pushing back and maintains that there's real competition among social media platforms in the country. As the number of users in all apps many exceed.

If the German ruling stands, Facebook's business model, which is largely predicated on advertising, will need to be seriously amended.

Andreas Mundt, president of Germany's Federal Cartel Office addresses a news conference presenting findings of the anti-trust watchdog's investigation into Facebook's data collection practices in Bonn, Germany, February 7, 2019. "That poses questions in terms of privacy - and of cybersecurity", as that will be a single point of vulnerability for hackers to target in an attempt to gain social network users personal data from all the platforms, the report stated.

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