It’s one of the banes of social media users everywhere: You do a little searching on Google and the next time you open Facebook, there are ads for what you just searched for. If that feels like an invasion of your privacy, the German Cartel Office agrees and wants to stop it.
The Cartel Office, which is a watchdog for competition violations, said Facebook is abusing its dominant position by collecting data from third-party apps and then linking that information to Facebook user accounts.
“Above all, we consider the collection of data outside of the social network of Facebook and its merger with Facebook accounts to be problematic,” said Andreas Mundt, president of the Cartel Office. Using tech interfaces called APIs, data is “transmitted to Facebook and is collected and processed by Facebook even when a Facebook user visits other websites,” Mr. Mundt added.
“We consider the collection of data outside of the social network of Facebook and its merger with Facebook accounts to be problematic.”
When a user visits a website, they collect cookies in their internet browsers which leave an indelible record of where they have visited. This enables trackers to follow what they have been doing on the internet. Third-party marketing companies then sell that information to advertisers who can use it on Facebook or elsewhere.
The Cartel Office said Facebook dominates the market for social media in Germany and must take into account its users cannot switch to another form of social media.
Yvonne Cunnane, head of data protection and privacy at Facebook Ireland, a lawyer who is leading the company’s efforts to comply with the tough European data protection rules, rejected the office’s allegations, saying it projected an “inaccurate image.” She said the website would do more educational programs in Germany to familiarize users with how it protects data and individual security.
The European Union has some of the toughest privacy laws in the world, allowing people to have information about them on the web deleted on demand. In May next year, a new data law will require American companies with clients in Europe to comply with stringent rules on data protection, including getting people’s permission to keep data about them and delete when it is no longer needed.
France’s data protection agency CNIL also warned Facebook this week that sharing data with WhatsApp, the message service it bought in 2014, was a potential violation of French data laws. It gave WhatsApp one month to get users’ permission to share data with Facebook or face a hefty fine.
Johannes Steger is an editor with Handelsblatt’s companies and markets desk in Düsseldorf and Charles Wallace is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in New York. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org and C.Wallace@extern.handelsblatt.com.