European, specifically German anti-trust laws are coming down hard on platforms like FB and how they use user data. The German Federal Cartel Office’s latest decision to control how Facebook processes users’ personal data this week, signals the beginning of the end for social media platform power. The new order bans the social network from linking user data across different platforms it owns, without users’ consent. It also prohibits FB from gathering and linking data on users from third party websites, such as via its tracking pixels and social plugins.
While it is not yet in force, this new order could signal the silo-ing of the social media’s platforms, dividing the power it has over users. Once it comes into force, Facebook would have to ask for free consent by users to being data-mined. Right now, the consent is taken for granted. While FB can certainly work into loopholes around this order, that would create even more risk since its data policies are already under the radar in Europe under the EU data protection law.
The EU’s updated privacy framework, GDPR, requires consent to be specific, informed and freely given. That standard puts a question mark on the validity of Facebook’s (still fixed) entry ‘price’ to its social services. To play you still have to agree to hand over your personal data so it can sell your attention to advertisers. The alternative is to tell users they can delete their account.
Taking a very strong stand on this, the German FCO has dubbed this type of behaviour “exploitative abuse”, giving rise to two lines of legal attack — antitrust and privacy law — threatening Facebook (and indeed other adtech companies’) surveillance-based business model across Europe.
These remedies to these activities have been likened to an internal break-up of the company — with enforced internal separation of its multiple platform products at the data level. It would also mean a regulatory intervention in place, that interferes with an ad tech giant’s ability to pool and process personal data. Each of its platforms would be forced to be a more discrete kind of business.