Germany Forces Facebook to Get User Consent Before Messaging Merger

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Facebook is considering appealing on the data protection issues to the European Court of Justice, but here the Cartel Office may also have the upper hand, said Vinje, the lawyer.

"Users are often unaware of this flow of data and can not prevent it if they want to use the services", Barley told Reuters. The decision can be appealed; if it stands, it would force Facebook to add more ways for its users to protect their privacy. This includes assigning data from Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as third-party websites, to a Facebook user account. So, what someone views, likes or shares on Instagram - or the broader web - could be used to show that person an ad on Facebook. Finally, the FCO also concluded that the data allows Facebook to improve its position in targeted advertising services to the disadvantage of customers and competitors in the advertising space. Having said this, Facebook's German user base equates to approximately 95% of market share.

But critics have raised another possible reason - the threat of antitrust crackdowns. The Toronto-based bank was also named in a December 19 New York Times report as one of more than 150 companies that were given access to Facebook users' personal data.

Facebook on Thursday announced that businesses and organizations using Facebook Pages will be able to respond to Instagram Direct Messages from their Facebook Page inbox. "Voluntary consent" means that access to the service can not be limited to users who consent: if users do not consent, Facebook may not exclude them from its services but will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data from different sources.

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Privacy attorney Scott Vernick said he expects the integration plans to draw regulatory scrutiny, particularly in Europe. And Facebook is not happy about it, to say the least. If Facebook imposes new measures to comply, the better. Many of its provisions are created to make sure users have more control over how their data is collected and processed.

But Facebook, which history will no doubt judge harshly as being a net negative for humanity, is pushing back and maintains that there's real competition among social media platforms in the country.

That data then provides the foundation for Facebook's advertising profits.

Germany's Federal Cartel Office - or Bundeskartellamt - warned the company that within the year, it must stop collecting the data of unsuspecting consumers and combining it with their Facebook accounts.

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"The only choice the user has is either to accept the comprehensive combination of data or to refrain from using the social network", it said in its judgment. Users must agree to the terms or be excluded from the social network, a hard situation that can not be considered voluntary consent, as required under the law. "The combination of data sources has contributed significantly to Facebook creating such a unique aggregate of data on each individual user and its market power could reach".

"Yet the Bundeskartellamt's decision misapplies German competition law to set different rules that apply to only one company", Facebook said on its blog.

Facebook said the cartel office failed to recognize the extent of competition it faced from Google's YouTube or Twitter for users' attention, and also said the regulator was encroaching into areas that should be handled by data protection watchdogs.

Ortutay reported from NY.

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