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Facebook's data gathering hit by German anti-trust clampdown (reuters.com)
188 points by tethys 40 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

I wish anti-trust regulators would actually do something. The unchecked power and behavior of corporations is depressing. Take WhatsApp away from Facebook. They broke the one condition there was for the acquisition to be allowed. They have no legal or moral right to continue owning it.

If I remember correctly Facebook was only allowed to buy Whatsapp in France because they promised not to share user data between the two services. The German data protection agency basically didn't say anything only because the french said it already.

Now Facebook does it's mix-and-mash anyways.

I'd have expected to hear something out of France about this. Did I just miss it?

Facebook has already been fined by the European commission in 2017 to the tune of 110M Euros over this. It is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions Facebook paid for WhatsApp though - so small one suspect Facebook might have already factored it into the cost of the acquisition.

[1]: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/may/18/facebook-fi...

Isn't the point of fines to punish past bad behaviour? Why aren't there escalating fines if a company continues to not comply with rulings? I mean it is not a one time thing that can't be changed.

Sorry for asking, I know next to nothing about how these laws work.

Too many anti-trust agencies seem to have a "Oh well, what's done is done, what can you do now?!" attitude towards violations.

If one of the primary conditions of the merger was that WhatsApp was not allowed to share user data with FB, and then FB goes ahead and does it anyway (even before ever prompting users to agree with this), then that should be all the reason the agencies need to order the split of WhatsApp from Facebook.

Because they don't take this seriously enough is exactly why Facebook is now attempting to further integrate Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, so that a few years down the road when the shit will really hit the fan, FB would be able to claim that the disintegration of the services is "impossible" at that point and/or get those platforms' users to raise hell against their politicians for attempting to do that.

Anti-trust is vague and arbitrary. Companies can’t avoid violation because it’s not clear what a violation actually is.

> Now Facebook does it's mix-and-mash anyways.

Did they? I thought it was just under discussion.

They have been doing it to a smaller extent outside the EU, with contacts data being shared between WhatsApp and Facebook. Therefore if you have the Facebook app installed as well as WhatsApp, every contact in Facebook and WhatsApp will be integrated as best as possible.

Which actually shows that European antitrust has some power. Facebook seems to be very aware that they can't get away (or at least pay more) with the same things in the EU as outside of it.

Obviously frustrating for non-EU citizens but the only thing helping here will be more GDPR-like laws across the globe. If enough nations enact regulation like this, it'll be cheaper for a company to follow it globally.

> If Facebook fails to comply, the cartel office could impose fines of up to 10 percent of the company’s annual global revenues, which grew by 37 percent to $55.8 billion last year.

I hope they go for the maximum fine.

What about Google? (With their Adsense, analytics, email, search ... setup ...)

I hope Google will also be one day forced to use permissions on per app and per service base.

If I want to give Google Maps access to my location it means only Maps and for limited scope not all across Google ecosystem.

Android is constantly nagging me to turn on location and wifi scanning for example to use Google Home. It doesn't make sense - they could use SSID of my home wifi to make sure that I am home. Where my home is is not their business.

So you want to use ad-supported services without feeding the ad-system that keeps the services running? Why do think you have a right to use Google Maps without supporting the underlaying business model?

I have acctually paid for Google Home and for my smartphone. Can you explain how is this add supported deal?

Plus I do not object to ads in Maps based on my behaviour in Maps. I do object against that spider's web that Google and FB is building around my entire life.

Google maps can charge for API use. They already do. Services can charge money -- not everything has to be ad supported. Business models aren't inviolate things -- they exploit existing regulations. When the regulations change, then so do the business models.

Then why do you use ad-supported services rather than going for the ones which do not collect your data and instead charge you money directly?

Pretty much all services make money from tracking you because it's legal and doesn't cost them anything.

Even those that charge. E.g. google maps will charge the vendor and still track the user. A WSJ subscription will still have tracking code and third party js, etc.

As long as it's free for the service and there are no penalties, then of course they will try to collect as much data on you as you allow them to collect. But it's your responsibility as an internet user to prevent them from collecting anything that you don't approve of, and to block third parties from injecting their code into your equipment unless you vet that code or otherwise trust it. When stuff like spying and data collection is outlawed, this creates economic room for honest players to participate in honest business practices. We're just not there yet.

They have one of the worlds most comprehensive maps of SSIDs to location. So even that wouldn’t really prevent them from knowing where you live.

They are both in the wrong. But one company's wrongdoing does not invalidate the guilt of another.

I think the main issue is the aggregation between FB and WhatsApp data. FB promised/guaranteed not to do it in order to get the acquisition approved. They have since changed their minds. FB would surely complain if the regulators also changed their minds and declared the acquisition illegal/invalid.

> Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook accounts

They'll get their turn, don't worry.

Facebook's statement is... interesting.

> The Bundeskartellamt underestimates the fierce competition we face in Germany

Which competition? The only viable social network in Germany that came close to Facebook was Lokalisten, which shuttered finally in 2016.

Domestic data hoarders and advertisers - extremely invasive and territorial. The difference is that none of them runs social networking website or mobile messenger app, thus without consumer facing facade many uninformed assume they don't exist. e.g. their media and retail oligopolies like to roll out their own ad, tracking, and loyalty programs to have full control of the data. They don't let anyone in and are trying to expand, clumsily, to other EU countries.

What does "other data collectors exist" have to do with Facebook's status as the dominating social network (95% (measuring DAUs)/80% (measuring MAUs) market share according to the press release)? Facebook also clearly cites other social media companies/networks from a wider scope in defense, not data collectors.

there are other relevant collectors as well for example Deutsche Post (German Postal Services), see https://www.dw.com/en/deutsche-post-sold-voter-microtargetin...

It seems by "competition", they don't mean a competing social network, they mean competition for advertising pesos.

Think of FB as an oil company, whose product is human attention, instead of oil. The social network is the oil extraction technology, that is used to mine people’s data and attention. However, the actual product is this data and attention, which is then sold to advertisers, who are the real customers.

The social media extraction technology could be replaced by other tefhnologies used to mine data and attention, such as videos, music, or chat services. The competitors, however, are other companies selling the same product.

That is FB’s perspective.

Care to provide some details? because FB considers YouTube, Twitter, and the likes as that competition but you may know more.

Americans are smarter - they provide this bait-facade of "usefulness", Germans are more direct and down-to-the-business e.g. there are billboards on the streets of German cities with "privacy campaigns" actively agitating against Facebook, country-wide hysteria against social networks (or even internet in general). Someone certainly pays for it - articles, billboards, etc are not a volunteer work.

> there are billboards on the streets of German cities with "privacy campaigns" actively agitating against Facebook

I don't recall ever seeing anything like that. So it's either very rare or limited to certain regions. I do recall seeing Facebook billboards which pick up some of the Anti-Facebook rhetoric, e.g. [1]. Those are paid for by Facebook.

> country-wide hysteria against social networks

According to Facebook itself, there are ~29 million daily users[2] in Germany (pop. 82 million).

[1] http://cdn4.spiegel.de/images/image-1065027-galleryV9-qxvz-1... ("I posted something I should not have shared/Delete it and it's gone")

[2] https://allfacebook.de/zahlen_fakten/offiziell-facebook-nutz...

I'm sure someone must pay. But I can make assumptions all by myself with little to no help. What I could really use are details, facts, evidence. So I'm forced to reiterate, care to provide some?

I don't mean evidence that people want more privacy and someone is paying/putting up billboards advocating this. Do you have some evidence (anything) that these yet unnamed companies are behind a strategy to stain FB's image (as if it were needed) in order to have the privacy violation market all to the themselves?

Can you at least name one of these companies? Or maybe a hint on why Facebook doesn't even acknowledge this enemy?

An example from the street of a major German city: https://i.imgur.com/owlT9Rv.jpg

I have absolutely no insight into any lobbying activities, obviously.

That doesn't really feel like an anti-FB campaign as much as a campaign to improve the FB experience and an "educational" one to raise awareness related to fake accounts. You can tell as much by their FB page.

That billboard was made by Facebook themselves though, in an attempt to "educate" users on privacy, in a feeble attempt to appear responsible.

> articles, billboards, etc are not a volunteer work.

Are you sure? It's unusual but not impossible. It ought to be possible to find out who is paying for them.

Facebook's response is without question following Peter Thiel's monopolist argumentation position.

If you're a monopolist, widen your pool of competition to include anything you possibly can.

If your employees consume fruit at work, proclaim you're competing with Chiquita bananas (and have a tiny share of the fruit market).

If your employees ever fly on planes, proclaim your position in jets is terribly weak next to Boeing and Airbus.

They're not a social network, they're considerably trailing YouTube with Watch. They're not a social network, they're trailing Craigslist with Marketplace. They're not a social network, they're badly trailing Android and iOS in app marketplaces. They're not a social network, they're badly trailing Amazon and Google in smart speakers and home tech. And so on the lie goes.

Does this argument really work? Nobody says that Facebook has a monpoly in everything they do. They say that they have a monopoly in a very specific area, which should be enough for antritrust lawsuits.

I'm pretty sure that AT&T and Standard Oil also had branches that did not have a monopoly in their respective areas, but that didn't stop the splitting of the companies.

Microsoft aggressively deployed it in the 1990s with the US Government. It didn't work at all ultimately. Nobody outside of Microsoft's management bought into the premise (they either didn't actually buy into it either, or they were wildly delusional, hard to tell which it really was). Once the DOJ took the Microsoft case seriously, they cut through Microsoft's fluff like a buzzsaw.

It doesn't work very well at all with a determined government, which will zero in on specific market abuses (rather than getting caught up in bullshit PR fluff). Primarily it's one part PR play with the public brand & image, and one part time delay. Facebook would love nothing more than to have an opportunity to burn years of time by being given a chance to argue round and round about all the competition they face.

Microsoft laughably couldn't stop repeating how they were fighting for their right to innovate (which eg had next to nothing to do with their serious OEM abuses). Every other word out of Gates and Ballmer's mouths for years was a variation of innovation. They beat that drum to death, it made no difference. They tried playing the widen the competition pool card over and over again, that also made zero difference.

No serious regulator will ever believe the competition everywhere premise. I generally don't believe it's aimed at actually convincing a serious regulator, either. The sharks that work for giants like Facebook know it's not an actual strong legal argument, which is why I believe it's one part stall tactic and one part public image support. There's a small chance it could cause some skepticism among less determined regulators as a fluke benefit.

The only thing I would add is that it serves as a convenient figleaf for regulators and policy advocates who are politically or ideologically friendly to monopolists, of whom there are no shortage in the US at least

The other part of Peter Thiel's point is that if you aren't a monopoly, you pretend you are, so you can convince investors you are much more valuable.

Well, that statement is essentially a strawman. Even IF Facebook does face competition - it doesn't mean they should be allowed to violate privacy.

Not under anti-trust law (German "Kartellrecht"), where market concentration and competition are primary factors.

They named Youtube, Snapchat and Twitter as their competition

I think most companies internally think of anything that takes a user away from their service or site, even unrelated as competition.

Fortnite is the bogeyman for all entertainment and so forth.

But yeah as for social network, nothing.

BND seems like it could compete with facebook

> “The decision by the cartel authority, known as the Bundeskartellamt in German, allows Facebook to continue collecting data from its services like WhatsApp and Instagram. But the company will not be permitted to link this information to Facebook user accounts unless a user has explicitly consented.”

Facebook will just get away with a dark pattern of showing some new consent agreement to “improve your user experience” and nag people until they accept out of frustration.

Can’t any regulators just say, “No, you can’t do this under any circumstances. Period.”? Or come up with laws that prohibit these practices, knowing fully well the size and influence of Facebook and its properties (applying it to similar companies/models as well)?

Part of me cheers.

The realist in me goes "yay, more annoying consent popups" :(

I hope they force FB to destroy all information harvested on users in the past too.

Finally, it is time for gesichtbuch.de to shine

It's owned by facebook.

What really interests me is the lack of scrutiny towards Google. It all seems focused on Facebook, meanwhile what Facebook did was set a trend that others followed. Hopefully there is more to come, but it is definitely too little too late.


I did not mean for it to come out seeming like whataboutism. I just meant we should also look into Google's practices. Absolutely not excusing Facebook for what they chose to do.

Going by Facebook's history .... what are the chances they abide by any of this?

Facebook has shown they're going to do what they want how they want regardless of public perception, deals with other companies, other company rules, and arguably laws already in place.

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