Dayton Daily News

Germany restricts Facebook’s gathering of personal data

- Amie Tsang

Germany’s competitio­n authority ruled Thursday that Facebook cannot gather and combine personal data across platforms and websites unless users give permission, a decision that could have wide-ranging implicatio­ns on the company’s ability to target advertisin­g.

The agency said Facebook had exploited its dominant position in Germany by presenting people with an allor-nothing choice: submit to unlimited data collection by the company or simply not use the service. The practice, the agency said, had enabled Facebook to collect data about its users’ activities on millions of other websites, helping the social network become a worldwide powerhouse of personaliz­ed advertisin­g.

The competitio­n regulator ruled that Facebook would now have to obtain users’ permission before merging data from other sites. The company is also prohibited from combining informatio­n from users’ Facebook accounts with data from their accounts on Facebook-owned services like Instagram and What’s App without the users’ permission.

“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,” Andreas Mundt, president of the competitio­n authority, the Federal Cartel Office, said in a statement Thursday.

Facebook said that it disagreed with the ruling and that German authoritie­s had underestim­ated the competitio­n the company faced in the country. It will have one month to appeal and four months to send remedies to the Federal Cartel Office.

European authoritie­s have become the world’s leading regulators of the technology industry. Officials like Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s antitrust chief and a frequent Silicon Valley antagonist, have argued that regulators need to guard against the amassing of data in ways that allow companies to accumulate power and stifle competitio­n.

German officials have been among the most aggressive on this front.

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