BONN, Germany – Germany’s top antitrust enforcer has ordered United States-based tech giant Facebook to stop combining data it collects about Germans’ use of apps and websites across the internet without user consent, a novel application of competition law that strikes at a cornerstone of the social-media giant’s business.
In a decision issued on Thursday morning, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office said that Facebook has abused its dominance as a social network by requiring people to accept its terms – which allow it to collect information about their wider internet usage – as a condition of using the social network.
The authority ordered Facebook to make changes to its terms of service and how it collects user data.
Data collected by the social network from third-party apps and websites cannot be assigned to a user’s Facebook account without their consent.
Data gathered from Facebook-owned apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram also cannot be assigned to Facebook accounts without user consent, and if consent isn’t given, the data can only be used within the scope of those apps.
“If consent is not given for data from Facebook-owned services and third-party websites, Facebook will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data,” the authority said.
Facebook will be required to develop proposals for such changes and submit them to the cartel office within four months.
Facebook said it plans to appeal the decision in court.
“While we’ve cooperated with the Bundeskartellamt for nearly three years and will continue our discussions, we disagree with their conclusions and intend to appeal so that people in Germany continue to benefit fully from all our services,” the social media giant said in a blog post.
The company argues it is not dominant, and that the complaints raised by the cartel office (called the “Bundeskartellamt” in German) should be handled by privacy regulators under the European Union’s new privacy law, called the GDPR.
“The Bundeskartellamt underestimates the fierce competition we face in Germany, misinterprets our compliance with GDPR and undermines the mechanisms European law provides for ensuring consistent data protection standards across the EU,” Facebook said.