Skip links

Germany Takes First Step to Stop The Surveillance Business Model

Blog. Are we seeing a Europe working towards prohibiting the fundamental surveillance business model of Facebook, Google and the ad tech industry? So, it seems from a recent German antitrust decision and a EU comment.

In February the German antitrust authority, Bundeskartellamt, took a bold and may be historic step: It prohibited Facebook from combining user data from different sources. The decision states:

“Third party sources are data generated on the one hand by the use of services owned by Facebook, such as e.g. WhatsApp and Instagram. On the other hand, the data are generated by the use of third party websites and apps. If a third party website has embedded so-called “Facebook Business Tools” such as the “Like” button, “Facebook login” or analytical services such as “Facebook Analyt-ics”, data will be transmitted to Facebook via APIs the moment the user calls up that third party web-site for the first time. In accordance with Facebook’s terms and conditions these data can be com-bined with data from the user’s Facebook account and used by Facebook, even if users have blocked web tracking in their browser or device settings. In the authority’s assessment, these terms and conditions are neither justified under data protection principles nor are they appropriate under competition law standards.”

It other words Facebook can continue collecting data from users, when they use Facebook, but not combine that data when users use WhatsApp or Instagram and whichever of many many website with a cookie from Facebook. For that they need specific consent and cannot just do it, when you give your consent signing up to Facebook.

“Take it or leave “privacy policies”, opaque and unchallengeable practices like profiling and targeting and multiple obscure third-party agreements for data sharing are, for us, examples of exploitative abuse,” said Giovanni Buttarelli, The EU General Data Protection Supervisor after the decision. He applauds the German decision and sees it as a big step towards coherent digital law enforcement in Europe.

Facebook, of course, disagrees with the decision. It is also a big blow to the company who recently announced it will integrate Facebook, WhatsApp and Instragram (both founders of the two latter services have left them after disagreement of data usage).

” The Bundeskartellamt underestimates the fierce competition we face in Germany,” according to Facebook and points to services like Twitter, SnapChat and Youtube. Facebook also stated that popularity is not the same as dominance and that Facebook is fully compliant with GDPR.

The Bundeskartellamt works closely together with the EU antitrust commission who works closely together with the EU authorities on data protection and consumer protection. Giovanni Buttarelli warnst:

“This case is the tip of the iceberg – all companies in the digital information ecosystem that rely on tracking, profiling and targeting should be on notice.”

Read the full decision in English here