Germany's Federal Cartel Office has released a statement outlining new restrictions on how Facebook can collect and process data in the region, citing the social networking giant's breach of European data protection rules. The rules apply to Facebook itself and extend to other properties owned by the company, including WhatsApp and Instagram.
Under the new restrictions, Facebook will no longer be able to combine data collected from outside a given application or site and link that data to the user's account. In its current iteration, the company's apps and even its main website can effectively track a user's activity well beyond their own boundaries.
For web users, that practice has meant that web activity from third-party sites could be collected and stored by the company in connection with the Facebook account. Applications are a similar situation with the company's messaging platforms being of particular interest to the government agency. Users aren't informed when data collection starts since Facebook Analytics begins collection as soon as a site is visited or an app is called up that includes the relevant API or embedded code.
Breaking Facebook's dominance abuse
The EU data protection rules are violated by the practice since Facebook doesn't explicitly request users consent in accordance with those regulations and aren't able to opt out.
The German regulators point to Facebook's relative market dominance in social media as one area where its practices raise concerns since its placement gives the company monopolistic tendencies, according to the agency.
Specifically, it notes that services such as Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Xing are only partial competitors, lacking features and services that Facebook has helped standardize from a consumer perspective. Google+ is specified as a service that did offer some competition but will no longer be available as of April 2.
As of December 2018, the Federal Cartel Office additionally notes that its dominance in terms of market share in Germany sits at around 95-percent of daily active users and 80-percent of monthly active users. Facebook's WhatsApp and Instagram apps hold a high percentage of the market too. Cross-sharing data and assigning it to a Facebook account only serves to further the monopolization of the social network market.
In short, users are forced to let Facebook collect data regardless of which app they're using to connect with friends and family. All of that data is being collected and merged together and no way to stop it without abandoning the services and uninstalling Facebook's apps.
The authority's goal to end user exploitation also stems from the fact that competitors simply can't access the same wealth of user information, impeding on their ability to actively challenge Facebook's dominance.
Facebook combined messaging is a controversial loophole
Facebook will need to put forward proposals of solutions to the problems outlined in the German regulator's latest rules but the company may actually have already found a way around at least a portion of the German restrictions. While it will likely need to pull back on website-specific data collection and combined efforts in the country, its applications could be a complete non-issue.
That's because the company has all but confirmed its intention to begin bringing the apps together, including Facebook Messenger. Efforts toward that end could start as early as 2020.