Germany Punishing Facebook for Social Media Dominance

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"The GDPR specifically empowers data protection regulators - not competition authorities - to determine whether companies have lived up to their responsibilities", it said.

"In the authority's assessment, Facebook's conduct represents above all a so-called exploitative abuse", said the Bundeskartellamt, or Federal Cartel Office.

Apple said on Wednesday (30 January) it had banned Facebook from a program created to let businesses control iPhones used by their employees, claiming the social networking company had improperly used it to track the web-browsing habits of teenagers.

Data can only be assigned to Facebook from WhatsApp and Instagram with the user's voluntary consent, the Bundeskartellamt said in a press release.

"Facebook's monitoring under Project Atlas is particularly concerning because the data collection performed by the research app was deeply invasive", wrote the lawmakers in their letter to Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook will appeal the landmark ruling, which is the culmination of a three-year probe.

"The previous practice of combining all data in a Facebook user account, practically without any restriction, will now be subject to the voluntary consent given by the users", Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellam, said in a statement. The company says it takes issue with the Bundeskartellamt's characterization of Facebook as having the "dominant position" in the German market for social networks.

Vinje said it would be tough for Facebook to persuade the court that the Cartel Office's definition of the market for social media, and its dominance, were misguided.

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It said that companies such as Snapchat (SNAP), Google's (GOOGL) YouTube and Twitter(TWTR) don't offer the same services as Facebook and therefore can't be included in the market.

While Facebook is less widely used in Germany than in some other western countries, it has 32 million monthly active users in a population of 83 million and controls more than 95 per cent of the country's social media. In...

By the end of Facebook's statement the company leans heavily into the claim that everybody else is doing it, so why can't they-which may be the most terrifying point. The data in question does not only concern WhatsApp and Instagram, but also all other third-party sources used by Facebook.

Over the past several months, Facebook has been embroiled in a number of scandals related to data breach and faced accusations of selling user data, which the company itself has denied.

"The extent to which Facebook collects, merges and uses data in user accounts constitutes an abuse of a dominant position", the Bundeskartellamt said.

If the German ruling stands, Facebook's business model, which is largely predicated on advertising, will need to be seriously amended. "In the operation of its business model the company must take into account that Facebook users practically can not switch to other social networks", said Mundt.

Germany's antitrust watchdog has hit the social network with a ban on combining user data it gathers from different sources, unless it has explicit consent from users. "In such a hard situation the user's choice can not be referred to as voluntary consent", the FCO said.

The letters come one week after TechCrunch reported that Facebook, through its Project Atlas program, was paying people between the ages of 13 and 35 to download the Facebook Research VPN, which allowed Facebook access to all mobile and web data.

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