Facebook again encounters a new obstacle brought by the German authorities; in this case, it affects the waterline of its data collection business. The Federal Antitrust Office of Germany has announced the prohibition of the social network from collecting data through third parties, which means that, for example, it will not be able to collect the data generated through the “Like” button, the so-called “likes,” a practice that is labeled as “abusive” and “unfair to the competition.”
The German competition authorities base their decision on the fact that Facebook plays a dominant role in the market and in the assessment that it is abusing it. Facebook has communicated that it plans to appeal the decision before the courts, and a lot is played in this resource because the case could set a European precedent, linking for the first time in the case law the protection of data with the defense of competition. The case will surely go through numerous courts and will do so for years, but for now, in Germany, Facebook has banned much of the data collection that it has been taking so far.
The antitrust agency also prohibits Facebook from linking the data collected on other websites with the information it collects about users within the social network itself. The German authorities take as third sources the applications belonging to the Facebook group, such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Once these new operating rules are established, they call on Facebook to modify these practices within a year and submit proposals for solutions within four months.
The social network has only one month to appeal the decision before the Regional Court of Düsseldorf, and those responsible for the company in Germany are already at work, arguing that the social network is popular but not dominant in the German market and ensuring that it does not violate the European data protection provisions. In addition, they claim that monitoring compliance with these rules is the responsibility of the data protection authorities and not the defense of competition.
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During the last weeks and without a doubt seeking a more lenient treatment by the German authorities, Facebook had contacted the government of Berlin to show their eagerness to collaborate and offer their help to protect the computer security of the upcoming European elections. Sherly Sandberg, head of operations of the social network in Munich, explained that the American company is willing to work together with the German Federal Information and Security Office to avoid interference in European elections.
The last years have been very complicated in Facebook, he admitted; we know that we have to do better and anticipate the risks that come from connecting so many people. In this line, he drew attention to the fact that Facebook “is not the same company it was in 2006 or even a year ago ” and announced an investment of 7.5 million dollars in research on the ethics of artificial intelligence, next to the Technical University of Munich. But, in light of the facts, it has not served much.
Last Friday, Chancellor Merkel announced the closure of its Facebook page, with more than 2.5 million followers, predicting a worsening of relations between the government of Berlin and the social network. The German chancellor explained that she was doing it because she no longer runs the Christian Democratic Union (CDI) party after her right-hand man, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, took over from that post last December. Merkel invited her followers to “continue to monitor my work as chancellor” through the “Bundeskanzlerin” (federal chancellor) account on Instagram.
Merkel, very active on the Internet and social networks, has never shown great interest in Facebook, a social network in which its team had been the one that kept the account active. Asked in 2015 what she thought about Facebook, she replied, “it’s good to have it, as it’s good to have a car or a decent washing machine”. This detachment has been translated into a distant strategy on the part of the German authorities and is very critical with the handling of data and the privacy of the users carried out by the social network.
The Federal Antimonopoly Office has so far only investigated data collection outside the main Facebook platform through the “Like” button or the Facebook Analytics data analysis tool. One of the main points of criticism of the German agency is that the user is obliged to accept the data collection “in a comprehensive package” to be able to use the network and counts on those responsible for the social network to find quickly an alternative that effectively allows users to maintain control over the data they share.