Germany Promises ‘Quick’ Action On Facebook Data Practices

The head of Germany’s Cartel Office says Europe is set to ratchet up regulatory pressure on ‘abusive’ tech giants

Facebook and other big technology companies are set to face sustained pressure from regulatory authorities in Europe, according to Germany’s antitrust chief, who said the country’s Federal Cartel Office hopes to take “the next steps” in its Facebook probe this year.

The office’s president, Andreas Mundt, has been outspoken in his criticism of firms such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

His Facebook investigation is attracting increased attention internationally following repeated data scandals involving Facebook’s data collection and the use of that data for political purposes.

As Mundt presented a review of the agency’s activities over the past year on Monday in Bonn, he underscored its scrutiny of Facebook’s data-collection activities as well as citing its investigations of online advertising, digital television platforms and comparison websites.

Federal Cartel Office president Andreas Mundt

E-commerce probe

He also confirmed comments in a newspaper interview earlier this month that indicated he may launch a so-called sector probe into e-commerce, which would focus on “hybrid” platforms such as Amazon that sell their own products as well as hosting third-party vendors.

Mundt said that while Amazon is the best-known e-commerce vendor, his interest also extended to other companies.

Such probes are examples of the ways the Cartel Office is seeking to keep markets open for new players as well as ensuring fairness for consumers, Mundt said.

The agency is working with its French equivalent to investigate the algorithms used by big tech companies to automate data processes and they are also planning to cooperate on e-commerce issues, Mundt said.

Taken together with the activities of the European Commission, with its high-profile probes of Google, Europe is the setting for an “extraordinary bandwidth of activities” by competition authorities that are “setting out guidelines for the digital economy”, he said, according to a Bloomberg report.

‘Next steps’

Mundt said he hopes to take “the next steps” in the Facebook probe this year, focusing on the regulator’s concern that the social network abused its market dominance to gather data on people without their knowledge or consent.

He said he does not intend the investigation, which began two years ago, to last as long as the EU’s lengthy procedure against Google, saying it was urgent the proceedings move “quickly”.

The fact that in May Facebook implemented features – such as a “clear history” option – that respond to issues raised by the Cartel Office makes the social network a moving target, Mundt said, adding that his office is reviewing Facebook’s measures and will adapt its review accordingly.

The probe isn’t expected to result in fines, as the European Commission investigation of Google has done, but may require Facebook to make changes to address competition concerns.