Facebook Accused of Data Extortion By German Authorities


Facebook will be forced to make technical changes if found guilty of antitrust charges

Facebook has been targeted by the German authorities for allegedly using over-complicated small print to trick users into handing over personal information.

The vast amount of personal information Facebook collects on its two billion members is used to generate billions in advertising revenue, but is at the centre of the latest high-profile European antitrust investigation to be carried out against a major technology company.

This one is being headed up by Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, essentially looking into whether Facebook uses language that users may not understand to trick them into agreeing to terms and conditions. 

data centre, facebook

Facebook probe

The practice, the agency claims, is “extorting” personal data from users. 

“Whoever doesn’t agree to the data use, gets locked out of the social network community,” said German lawyer Frederik Wiemer. “The fear of social isolation is exploited to get access to the complete surfing activities of users.”

Cartel Office president Andreas Mundt said the case tackles “central questions ensuring competition in the digital world in the future” adding that he wants the investigation’s initial results to be presented this year.

While other tech companies have been hit with fines following antitrust probes, the Facebook investigation currently rules out the possibility of a financial penalty, with any confirmed breach of antitrust rules more likely to results in technical changes.

The same cannot be said for Google, which just last week was slapped with a record-breaking 2.4 billion euro (£2.1bn) fine by the European Commission for manipulating search results related to its shopping comparison service.

Google has also been ordered by antitrust regulators to stop forcing Android manufacturers to install its software, as the EC has looked to clamp down on how technology companies operate.

But Google isn’t the only firm to have faced the wrath of regulators. Authorities hit Apple with a €13 billion (£11bn) tax bill after the Irish government was ordered to recover the “illegal tax benefits,” despite the government claiming the money was “state aid”. 

And Facebook itself is no stranger to regulators, following investigations over its data-sharing policies with messaging service WhatsApp.

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