Facebook Said to Face German Data Order as Soon as Next Week

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is days away from receiving the final ruling in a German probe into how the social network scoops up data of its users, two people familiar with the issue said.

The Federal Cartel Office, Germany’s antitrust regulator, may issue the ruling as early as next week, said the people, who declined to be identified because the timing of the decision isn’t public. The regulator will order Facebook to change its contracts to stop making users agree to the data collection in question, one of the people said.

The probe is one of many that the Menlo Park, California-based social networking company faces over the handling of customer data throughout Europe. The Irish data-protection regulator said in an interview this week that her agency currently had seven separate investigations into Facebook.

The German probe is targeting the way Facebook collects information on how users surf to drive its advertising revenue. The Bundeskartellamt, the regulator’s German name, has been probing the terms since 2016 and last year several times postponed the final decisions.

Facebook said that its been responding to the regulator’s requests since the beginning of the investigation.

“We disagree with their views and the conflation of data protection laws and antitrust laws, and will continue to defend our position,” the company said in a statement.

Cartel Office spokesman Michael Detering said the agency aims to release its decision "soon," without commenting further.

Limitlessly Amass

In December 2017 when disclosing preliminary findings in the case, the Cartel Office said Facebook abuses its dominance by using membership agreements that allow the company to "limitlessly amass every kind of data generated by using third-party websites and merge it with the user’s Facebook account." Third-party sites include services owned by Facebook such as WhatsApp or Instagram and websites and apps of other operators that Facebook can access through interfaces.

Under Facebook’s contracts, if people don’t accept the entire package they must stop using the network, the regulator said, criticizing “inappropriate" terms of service widely used by internet sites.

The German regulator has drawn widespread criticism for using antitrust rules to look into data issues, a territory normally reserved for privacy regulators. The Cartel Office is relying on a rule developed by Germany’s top court that said a dominant company can misuse its position if it forces customers to accept unfair terms in contracts.

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