Germany Ordered Facebook to Restrict How it Collects and Combines Data

Germany’s Bundeskartellamt has prohibited Facebook from combining user data from different sources. This decision is not yet final, and Facebook has one month to appeal the decision to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court.

The decision covers the following data sources:

  • 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’s data.
  • Collecting data from third-party websites and assigning them to a Facebook user account will also only be possible if users give their voluntary consent.
  • 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. Facebook is to develop proposals for solutions to this effect.

The Bundeskartellamt points out that many users are not aware that use of Facebook is subject to Facebook being able to collect an almost unlimited amount of any type of user data from third party sources, allocate those to the users’ Facebook accounts, and use them for numerous data processing processes.

It notes that third-party websites that include embedded “Like” or “Share” buttons enable data to flow to Facebook. The Bundeskartellamt said: “It is not even necessary, e.g. to scroll over or click on a “Like” button. Calling up a website with an embedded “Like” button will start the data flow. Millions of such interfaces can be encountered on German websites and on apps”.

The BBC reported that the UK-based campaign group Privacy International has said that if the German ruling holds, Facebook should extend the same rights to its other users.

Facebook, as you would expect, disagrees with the Bundeskartellmt. Facebook says it complies with the GDPR. Facebook claims that “using information across services helps to make them better and protect people’s safety”. Facebook says it will make the Bundeskartellmt defend these important arguments in court.