Snoopy site

Facebook gathers far more data than users realize, claims Germany's cartel office

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George Orwell had a name for this kind of snooping... Source: DPA

The president of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, Andreas Mundt, is on a mission to curb Facebook’s appetite for people’s data. He told Handelsblatt he wants to strap the social network into a corset because it dominates its market and is exploiting that position to gather far more information than its users are aware of.

Mr. Mundt said Facebook may have to change its business model to allay cartel office concerns that the social media giant has yet to respond to. The office published its findings in December, months before Facebook got into deeper trouble over revelations that the data of 87 million users was passed to Cambridge Analytica, a consultancy that advised Donald Trump’s election campaign.

“We all know that Facebook gathers data on a massive scale and uses it. The scandal over Cambridge Analytica is a new high point,” Mr. Mundt said in an interview. “But it’s long been clear that this passion for collecting data has reached the point at which one can refer to it as a veritable profiling of users.”

“We all know that Facebook gathers data on a massive scale.”

Andreas Mundt, president of the Germany's Federal Cartel Office

The cartel office believes Facebook is breaking German data privacy rules and the next step will depend on the company’s response. The company, Mr. Mundt argues, can either change its business practices voluntarily – or face legal action.

The cartel office’s action against Facebook is part of broader drive by European regulators to exert greater control over US Internet giants. Handelsblatt has seen a draft directive by the European Commission to protect small companies that are reliant on online marketplaces run by Apple, Amazon and Google. The Commission wants the large internet firms to be transparent about how they compile shopping rankings that have a huge impact on sales of companies using online marketplaces, and when they’re giving preferential placing to their own subsidiaries in product rankings.

Last year, Brussels slapped a record €2.4 billion ($2.9 billion) fine on Google for favoring its own shopping service in Internet searches. Mr. Mundt noted that several cases were underway across Europe to curb the market dominance of big Internet firms. “In two, three years when these are completed,” he said, “we will have guardrails.”

Heike Anger covers economics and politics for Handelsblatt. Dana Heide is a political correspondent for Handelsblatt in Berlin. To contact the authors: anger@handelsblatt.com and heide@handelsblatt.com

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