A top German court has dealt a blow to Facebook’s data collection efforts.
The American social media giant is ensnared in an antitrust battle in the country.
On Tuesday, it was ordered to comply with an order to curb data collection.
The broader antitrust case is still ongoing.
Facebook must comply with an order by Germany’s antitrust watchdog to curb data collection from users, a top German court ruled on Tuesday, in a setback for the U.S. social network company.
The Federal Court’s stay order, which suspends a decision by a lower court, backs the Federal Cartel Office’s original view that Facebook abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their consent.
“I’m delighted by this decision,” said cartel office President Andreas Mundt. The ruling showed that “if data are collected and exploited illegally, it should be possible to take antitrust action to prevent the abuse of market power.”
Facebook said that the latest ruling did not relate directly to appeal proceedings which continue. “We will continue to defend our position that there is no antitrust abuse,” Facebook said. “There will be no immediate changes for people or businesses who use our products and services in Germany.”
Germany has been at the forefront of a global backlash against Facebook, which faces increasing criticism that it is being used to spread political disinformation.
The country’s antitrust watchdog had objected in particular to how Facebook pools data on people from third-party apps – including its own WhatsApp and Instagram — and online tracking of people who do not have accounts via Facebook “like” or “share” buttons.
In its decision, the Federal Court said it did not object to the cartel office’s assertions that Facebook was abusing its market dominance and that the company’s use of data lacked adequate consent on the part of its users.
In its original order in Feb. 2019, the cartel office said Facebook would only be allowed to assign data from WhatsApp or Instagram to its main Facebook app accounts if users consented voluntarily.
Collecting data from third-party websites and assigning it to Facebook would similarly require consent. If such consent is withheld, Facebook would have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data.
Facebook appealed against the cartel office’s original action, which was suspended by a regional court in Duesseldorf last July. Facebook continues to press its case in Dusseldorf.
Here’s the full announcement from the court:
Overview of case:
The network is financed by online advertising. It’s for this reason that advertising can be placed on Facebook pages. Using various programming interfaces provided by Facebook (“Facebook Business Tools”), companies can also connect their own websites or apps for mobile devices to Facebook Pages in a variety of ways.
For example, Facebook users can use plug-ins to express their interest in these pages or certain content (e.g. “Share” button) or make comments and log in to third-party websites using their Facebook registered user data via a “Facebook login”. The success of a company’s advertising can be measured and analyzed using measurement and analysis functions and programs offered by Facebook. It’s not just the behavior of private users on Facebook pages being recorded; access to third-party pages via corresponding interfaces (Facebook pixels) is recorded, without the user having to take any action. Using analytical and statistical functions of “Facebook Analytics”, companies receive aggregated data on how Facebook users interact with the services they offer across different devices, platforms, and websites.
Previous course of the process:
It abused this position by making the private use of the network dependent on its authority, contrary to the provisions of the Basic Data Protection Regulation (DSGVO), to link user and user device data generated outside of facebook.com with personal data, resulting from the use of Facebook itself without the further consent of the users.
However, at the request of Facebook pursuant to Section 65 (3) GWB it ordered the suspensive effect of the appeal because of serious doubts about the legality of the order. The effect of such an order is that the Bundeskartellamt’s order may not be enforced until the appeal has been decided.
Decision of the Federal Court of Justice:
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