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Facebook may no longer link user data from Whatsapp, Instagram or other websites to user accounts, concludes the German antitrust agency, the Bundeskartellamt after an investigation of almost three years.

According to the German regulator, Facebook abuses its dominant position by the scale on which it collects, combines and processes user data. This enables Facebook to build up a separate database for each individual user. The company may no longer link this data to a user account without the user’s consent. According to the Bundeskartellamt, consumers are forced to agree to the company’s terms of use. From now on, the refusal of these terms and conditions should not have any negative consequences. If Facebook does not take this decision into account, it can be fined considerably.

Can Facebook do anything with this data? Read more here: Privacy (be)leidt: How is your data protected?

Facebook not only collects data in the form of reactions and likes on its own platform but also collects data about users when they are not on Facebook. Via the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons that you often see on other websites, the tech giant gathers all sort of information such as IP addresses, surfing behaviour and device data from visitors in order to be able to link this to a specific user, even when they are not logged in to the platform. In this way, Facebook can sell targeted ads, with the processed data they estimate what someone likes to do in their free time for example. This all happens without the user knowing about it or giving permission for it. The German watchdog wants to change this. Without permission, Facebook is no longer allowed to follow internet users on such a large scale.

What about this targeted advertising? Affection? Manipulation or just smart marketing

Facebook states in a statement that it does not agree with the decision of the German regulator and says it does not have a dominant position. Facebook claims to have to deal with ‘fierce’ competition from Youtube, Snapchat, Twitter and others. 40 per cent of the Germans do not use the platform.

In a written response, the Dutch Consumer and Market Authority indicates that it wants to discuss this ruling further in a European context: “Facebook is active all over Europe and the way in which the platform will adjust its terms of use may also have consequences for Dutch consumers”.

Although this ruling does not directly relate to the privacy of Dutch users, the Dutch Personal Data Authority does follow this case. “It is a topical discussion that is taking place throughout the European Union. From above, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) is on top of this. This is about a competition complaint and not about the privacy that has been violated. If that is the case, Facebook users can file a complaint”, says Martijn Pols of the Personal Data Authority.