Germany’s Federal Competition Office (FCO) said Thursday it would impose new limits on how Facebook collects data from subsidiaries Whatsapp and Instagram, as well as third-party websites with embedded Facebook features such as “Like” buttons.
Rather than requiring users to accept that such data can be folded into their Facebook accounts under a one-off agreement to the social network’s terms and conditions, users must in future be asked for their specific consent in both cases, the authority said.
“In future, Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts,” FCO chief Andreas Mundt said in a statement.
“If users do not consent, Facebook may not exclude them from its services and must refrain from collecting and merging data from different sources.”
The FCO found that Facebook has a “dominant” position in social networking in Germany, with its 23 million daily active users representing 95 percent of the market — meaning there is no viable alternative service for most people.
That meant that “Facebook’s conduct represents above all a so-called exploitative abuse,” the authority argued.
“The only choice the user has is either to accept the comprehensive combination of data or to refrain from using the social network,” Mundt said.
“In such a difficult situation the user’s choice cannot be referred to as voluntary consent.”
In its own statement, Facebook said it would appeal the FCO’s decision.
“The Bundeskartellamt’s decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company,” the California firm said, adding that “we face fierce competition in Germany” from the likes of YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter.
Rather than the FCO, the Irish Data Protection Commission should be overseeing Facebook’s use of data as the company’s European HQ is based in Dublin, the social network said.