Facebook ordered to stop combining WhatsApp and Instagram data without consent in Germany

From The Verge: Germany’s national competition regulator has ordered Facebook to stop combining user data from different sources without voluntary consent. The order applies to data collected by Facebook-owned platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram, but also third-party sources that Facebook uses to flesh out its advertising profiles, including those of non-users.

The Bundeskartellamt, or Federal Cartel Office (FCO), has given Facebook one month to appeal the landmark decision, which comes after a three-year investigation. If the appeal fails, the tech company will have to ensure these data sources are not combined without consent within the next four months. Although the ruling only applies within Germany, the decision could influence regulators in other countries.

In a blog post, Facebook claims that such data privacy controls do not fall under the remit of the FCO, which enforces German antitrust and competition laws. But the FCO says Facebook’s control of multiple social networks combined with its high market share is “indicative of a monopolization process” and means intervention is needed.

“As a dominant company Facebook is subject to special obligations under competition law,“ said FCO president Andreas Mundt in a press statement. “In the operation of its business model the company must take into account that Facebook users practically cannot switch to other social networks [...] The only choice the user has is either to accept the comprehensive combination of data or to refrain from using the social network. In such a difficult situation the user’s choice cannot be referred to as voluntary consent.”

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