German court orders Facebook to stop collecting user data

Order against social media giant’s Dublin operation says it abuses market domination

Germany’s highest administrative court has issued an injunction against Facebook’s Dublin operation, ordering it to stop collecting its German users’ data. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Germany’s highest administrative court has issued an injunction against Facebook’s Dublin operation, ordering it to stop collecting its German users’ data. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

 

Germany’s highest administrative court has issued an injunction against Facebook’s Dublin operation, ordering it to stop collecting its German users’ data.

The injunction, granted on Tuesday, had been sought by Germany’s federal cartel office, which claims the US social media giant abuses its market dominance to collect excessive user data.

The court agreed, saying there was neither any doubt about Facebook’s market dominance nor any doubt it was abusing this dominance.

“[Facebook] abuses its position by – contrary to the GDPR [data protection] rules – making the private use of its network dependent on its power to link user ... data with personal data created by using Facebook itself,” the court ruled.

The lack of choice for Facebook users limits their personal autonomy and the protection of their right for informational autonomy, protected by GDPR. It also creates a “lock-in effect”, the court added, by freezing out competitors without Facebook’s digital reach.

Ahead of a full hearing in the matter, the Karlsruhe court indicated that any use of Facebook should require explicit user consent.

Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin has four months to respond to Tuesday’s decision, in particular to explain how it plans to ask its users for permission to collect their data.

The injunction arises from a February 2019 order by Germany’s federal cartel office for Facebook to stop excessive data collection. The Bonn-based agency said the US company was entitled to collect user data from WhatsApp and Instagram – and third-party services. But, without a user’s express permission, it was not permitted to merge these data sets with the user’s Facebook account.

“Facebook can, in future, no longer force its users to agree to effectively endless collection and collation of non-Facebook data,” said Andreas Mundt, cartel office head last year. “If the user does not grant permission, Facebook may not exclude them from its services and must forgo merging the collection and collation of data from various sources.”

Facebook took legal action against this order and, while a final ruling is outstanding, a regional court in Düsseldorf lifted the cartel office ban on data collection.

In response, the cartel office took the case to the federal administrative court in Karlsruhe, which agreed that data collection must stop immediately.

Cartel office head Andreas Mundt welcomed Tuesday’s decision. Data collection was a “decisive factor for economic power”, he said, and it was crucial that bodies such as his were able to intervene to stop cartel-like behaviour.