Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2018
Photo: Getty Images

Facebook was slapped with a ruling in Germany today that limits how the social media giant can collect data across its multiple platforms, like WhatsApp and Instagram. And Facebook is not happy about it, to say the least. The company says it’s collecting all of that data for your own good. They’re simply using their data sharing methods to protect you against terrorism and child abuse, according to Facebook. Seriously.

The Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s federal regulator of business competition, ruled that Facebook can no longer use data that it collects across different platforms without explicit permission from users. Facebook users in Germany and elsewhere previously had no way to opt out of the sharing of data between platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, and third party apps not owned by Facebook.

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“The previous practice of combining all data in a Facebook user account, practically without any restriction, will now be subject to the voluntary consent given by the users,” Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellam, said in a statement.

The German regulator noted that it didn’t take issue with Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram collecting data. It just didn’t like that one company was aggregating all of that data across multiple platforms. And the Bundeskartellamt alleges that Facebook has used this data collection in anti-competitive ways.

“The company has a dominant position in the German market for social networks,” the regulator said in a statement on its website this morning. “With 23 million daily active users [in Germany] and 32 million monthly active users Facebook has a market share of more than 95 percent (daily active users) and more than 80 percent (monthly active users).”

The German regulator also noted that Google+ would be shutting down in April of 2019 and that Facebook’s other competitors like Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter only offer “parts of the services” that Facebook does.

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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.

“The Bundeskartellamt underestimates the fierce competition we face in Germany, misinterprets our compliance with GDPR and undermines the mechanisms European law provides for ensuring consistent data protection standards across the EU,” Facebook said in a statement.

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Facebook claims that “over 40 percent of social media users in Germany don’t even use Facebook,” which seems like an odd claim since 60 percent market share would be considered monopolistic in almost any other industry. For example, Standard Oil had roughly 64 percent market share in 1911 before it was broken up by the U.S. government for being a monopoly.

Facebook insists that combining all of that data is actually great. In fact, the company says, it’s keeping everyone safe from stuff like terrorism and child abuse.

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From Facebook’s statement this morning (emphasis ours):

Facebook has always been about connecting you with people and information you’re interested in. We tailor each person’s Facebook experience so it’s unique to you, and we use a variety of information to do this – including the information you include on your profile, news stories you like or share and what other services share with us about your use of their websites and apps. Using information across our services also helps us protect people’s safety and security, including, for example, identifying abusive behavior and disabling accounts tied to terrorism, child exploitation and election interference across both Facebook and Instagram.

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By the end of Facebook’s statement the company leans heavily into the claim that everybody else is doing it, so why can’t they—which may be the most terrifying point.

“Every day, people interact with companies that connect and use data in similar ways. And all of this should be–and is–a legitimate area of focus for regulators and policymakers around the world. Yet the Bundeskartellamt is trying to implement an unconventional standard for a single company,” Facebook said.

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Facebook has come under fire for playing fast and loose with the mountains of data that it has collected on users over the years. The story broke wide open in March of 2018 when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had used Facebook data to target Americans and help swing the 2016 presidential election for President Donald Trump. Since then Facebook has faced countless questions about its privacy practices from governments around the world. Most recently, Facebook was caught putting spyware on the phones of teenagers for “research” purposes.

Facebook plans to appeal the ruling in Germany. But not just for its own corporate self interest, the company insists. Facebook only wants to make sure that everyone can “benefit” from a world filled with more Facebook services.

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“This is the point we’ll continue to make to the Bundeskartellamt and defend these important arguments in court, so that people and businesses in Germany can continue to benefit from all of our services,” Facebook said.

[Bundeskartellamt and Facebook]

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