German antitrust authorities restrict Facebook data use

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Since the GDPR went into effect past year, the comprehensive European data law has threatened a number of USA tech titans with significant fines.

Facebook users should be asked for consent before data collected by the group's subsidiaries Whatsapp and Instagram and on third-party websites is combined with their social network account, Germany's competition authority said Thursday.

The German cartel office, the Bundeskartellamt, has imposed new restrictions on how Facebook processes the data it gathers about users of Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp.

Germany has declared illegal Facebook's practice of demanding user information in exchange for the right to use its services.

It is worth to mention that in the last June, 2.5 billion people used at least one of Facebook apps: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger. In concrete terms, the FCO takes issue with Facebook merging user data from Facebook-owned properties like WhatsApp and Instagram as well as from third-party websites with a person's Facebook user account.

The Bundeskartellamt's ruling prohibits the social networking giant from combining records across the three services without first obtaining user consent. He further stated that "we are working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks".

But critics have raised another possible reason - the threat of antitrust crackdowns.

The French National Data Protection Commission said the US search giant failed to obtain consumers' consent before using their data to deliver more targeted advertising.

Facebook claims that "over 40 per cent of social media users in Germany don't even use Facebook", which seems like an odd claim since 60 per cent market share would be considered monopolistic in nearly any other industry.

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The FCO has said that the different platforms can continue to collect data, but this will need to be kept separate from other services unless the user gives their permission.

Privacy attorney Scott Vernick said he expects the integration plans to draw regulatory scrutiny, particularly in Europe. However, this project has raised concerns about users' data privacy.

The US firm has said it will appeal. As the number of users in all apps many exceed. Since then Facebook has faced countless questions about its privacy practices from governments around the world.

In ruling that Facebook was a "dominant company", the Cartel Office said it was subject to "special obligations under competition law" and 'must take into account that Facebook users practically can not 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", Mundt added.

'In such a hard situation the user's choice can not be referred to as voluntary consent'.

The German regulator also noted that Google+ would be shutting down in April of 2019 and that Facebook's other competitors like Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter only offer "parts of the services" that Facebook does.

It noted that it had been cooperating with the office in its investigation since 2016 and will continue discussions, but would also "defend these important arguments in court". Instead, he said, its German users must be allowed to opt out of data collecting and processing while still using Facebook's network and services.

Ortutay reported from NY.

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