The decision by Germany's top court will strengthen European governments to challenge large tech companies for collecting vast amounts of user data for their own profits. Given the dominance of such companies, this does not only violate antitrust laws, but also stands in conflict with citizen's privacy rights.
When using Facebook, anyone must agree to the use of their data. However, Facebook does not only collect data in Facebook, but also in WhatsApp, Instagram, and on third-party sites and apps that come with integrated like-buttons.
And while WhatsApp messages are encrypted, we must remember that this does not stop Facebook to collect all kinds of metadata when using their messaging service.
The German Cartel Office put a stop to this practice in February 2019. "In the future Facebook may no longer force its users to agree to a de facto unlimited collection and allocation of non-Facebook data to their user account", argued the Cartel Office. Instead, users would have to actively agree to Facebook merging their data with information on other sites. The company had to give the users a choice.
This was a direct attack on Facebook's business model, which relies on unlimited data collection. So Facebook appealed against the prohibition.
The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) now declined an appeal by Facebook, following the arguments stated by the German Cartel Office. Facebook must give users the choice to opt out of unlimited data collection across services and websites.
This ruling is a major victory for everyone demanding stronger regulations of large tech companies.
By combining data Facebook collected about users across its different platforms and third-party apps, it exploits its dominant position for maintaining its dominance and for making profits. The court ruled that in doing so Facebook is violating antitrust laws. The unlimited data collection must stop.
Facebook filed an appeal against the prohibition of the Cartel Office at the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf, but it has not yet ruled on the matter. However, the Düsseldorf court ordered that the prohibition of the Federal Cartel Office must not be enforced for the time being. The Federal Cartel Office then took the matter to the Federal Supreme Court.
The Federal Court of Justice has now reversed the decision made in Düsseldorf. "Facebook must give its users the opportunity to reveal less of themselves," said judge Peter Meier-Beck. A company with such a dominant market position as Facebook also has a "special responsibility" for the competition.
Facebook plans to continue its data collection. However, it must obey to the court's ruling until a final decision has been made. "We will continue to defend our position that there is no antitrust abuse," a Facebook spokesperson said.
The persistency of Facebook in this matter shows that Facebook will never respect people's right to privacy even when trying to market themselves as the new defenders of privacy.
The Federal Cartel Office, on the other hand, was pleased with the decision of the Federal Court of Justice. If data were collected and used unlawfully, it must be possible to intervene under cartel law "to prevent the abuse of market power", explained Andreas Mundt, President of the Federal Cartel Office.
German Facebook users can now hope that their data is not being collected across services for profile creation and for posting targeted advertisements.
However, this ruling only applies to the German market so anyone outside of Germany still has no option to stop the unlimited data collection of Facebook. As much as we are disgusted by Facebook's practices, we must remember that Facebook works as it is supposed to work.
The best way - whether you are in Germany or elsewhere - to stop data collection is to stop using and feeding services that abuse your private data. Check out these alternatives to leave Facebook and Google behind.