Science

Facebook abusing its power with 'limitless' collection of people's data, Germany says

Facebook abusing its power with 'limitless' collection of people's data, Germany says”

The Federal Cartel Office (FCO) said on Tuesday that Facebook was abusing its market power to limitlessly collect user data from external websites and apps, giving its advertisers an opportunity to target customers with hyper-specific ads. In a preliminary assessment, the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) said it had focused its probe on the U.S. social media giant's use of third-party sites to track users' browsing behaviour, often without their knowledge.

On Monday, France's data privacy watchdog said it may fine WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging app, if it does not comply with an order to bring its sharing of user data with Facebook into line with French privacy law.

The cartel office said it considers Facebook's data collecting practices outside the social network to be "problematic". The data transmitted from third sources give Facebook a wealth of information about its users, from which the Silicon Valley titan benefits financially by offering targeted advertising on its platform. While Facebook offered a free service to users on the one hand, the social network also held "attractive advertising space". The online giant, which has also come under fire in other countries for its use of data harvesting, told AFP in an emailed response that it would reply to the FCO's questions.

"Although Facebook is popular in Germany, we are not dominant", said Yvonne Cunnane, the head of data protection for Facebook Ireland, which oversees the company's operations in Europe. The anti-trust watchdog expects to finish its probe by mid-2018, some two years after it was launched.

The FCO does not have an authority to fine Facebook for abusive practices, but the social media giant can be forced to change or even stop some of its activities.

The EU is preparing to roll out its landmark new data privacy regulation (GDPR) in May next year.

"Facebook has built up an intricate network for unlimited data collection and compilation that is totally opaque", said Johannes Caspar, data protection commissioner for the city-state of Hamburg.

The probe by the German cartel office has raised eyebrows because some European Union officials see it as encroaching into an area properly overseen by data-protection authorities under EU-wide rules.

Facebook, founded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and fellow Harvard students in 2004, has grown exponentially to become the world's top social network and is valued on the stock market at $525 billion. Facebook said it would introduce "additional" data protection controls ahead of the May deadline.

Germany's overarching policy on privacy, especially as it relates to the company's use of personal data, has been fairly stringent in recent history, and Chancellor Angela Merkel seems intent on keeping it that way.



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