As I said last week, the combining of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger will allow Facebook to unilaterally harvest and merge users data so that it will be a seamless experience to migrate from one platform to another. Well, those plans have been dealt a huge blow.
Today, German antitrust authorities ruled against Facebook combining user data from different platforms, saying it was exploiting its position as a dominant social media company in violation of European regulations. (Download the full statement here)
The Federal Cartel Office, or Bundeskartellamt, said Facebook was guilty of “exploitative practices” by forcing users to 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.
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Dominant companies may not use exploitative practices to the detriment of the opposite side of the market, i.e. in this case the consumers who use Facebook. This applies above all if the exploitative practice also impedes competitors that are not able to amass such a treasure trove of data…..Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram can continue to collect data…..However, assigning the data to Facebook user accounts will only be possible subject to the users’ voluntary consent. Where consent is not given, the data must remain with the respective service and cannot be processed in combination with Facebook data. 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 user accounts
Facebook had a response
The ruling will not go into effect immediately and Facebook has one month to appeal. Anyway, Facebook has already given us a glimpse of its full case against this ruling. The tech giant said that Germany’s Cartel Office underestimates the competition Facebook has in Germany from YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter and others in calling it a “dominant company. In its response Facebook said:
We support the GDPR and take our obligations seriously. Yet the Bundeskartellamt’s decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company……We face fierce competition in Germany, yet the Bundeskartellamt finds it irrelevant that our apps compete directly with YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter and others.
What this means for Facebook
Facebook has been given 12 months to comply with the order. However, if the ruling is upheld, Facebook will be required to allow users to specifically approve data collected from other Facebook-owned sources and third-party websites. It means each and every user on all of its platforms will have to individually give consent for Facebook to collect and merge their data. Imagine how long it will take for every user to give consent?
Besides, there are those people who now skeptical about how Facebook uses its data so obviously they will not allow Facebook to play with their data. In a way, Facebook would never realize its plans to combine its platforms. But let’s wait and see.