back to article German competition watchdog toys with ban on some Facebook data-slurps

Germany's competition authority is reportedly poised to ban a chunk of Facebook's user data collection activities. The German paper Bild am Sonntag revealed the Bundeskartellamt (Federal Cartel Office) is to hand down its final ruling in a long-running inquiry into the Social Network's data-slurping. A preliminary ruling from …

  1. DJV Silver badge

    About time

    Maybe 2019 will be the year that Facebook data slurping will finally get reeled in. They also need to take a proper look at slurpage from others such as Google, Microsoft and Apple as well.

    1. Spanners Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: About time

      ...and Apple as well.

      As if that will be allowed to happen!

    2. pavel.petrman

      Re: About time

      Microsoft and Apple are great slurps in their own right, but no other publicly accountable* company in the world has nearly as much coverage as Google. Microsoft has "only" windows and cloud, Apple has "only" iPhones and services (iTunes etc), Facebook has only the data you and your friends willingly input (maybe they will scan the temporal and location data in your smartphone storage, but even that is getting more and more difficult) plus a "like" button on only the most questionable websites (even Twitter has more coverage in this area).

      But Google has everything - Android (with geolocation and wifi profiling always on, even when disabled per user settings), cloud services, and is in about 80 - 95% of websites one visits, regardless of reputation. Search, Gmail, Youtube et al are just the cherry on top. And it doesn't take any AI to correlate all of this data - even (and most disturbingly) about people who don't use any of Google services explicitly. Trying to avoid Google in one's life is like avoiding security cameras in downtown London - nearly impossible and very very labour intensive. Facebook doesn't come any close to Google's coverage.

      * Yes, Five Eyes etc. are much worse than even Google, but (or, better, because of) they are accountable to no-one.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: About time

        Facebook has only the data you and your friends willingly input ... plus a "like" button on only the most questionable websites ...

        What rock have you been living under for the last few years. Faecesborg harvests far more than you seem to think here - carefully harvesting whatever they can, correlating with anything else they have, and building a shadow profile. Lookup Max Schrems and his case against Faecesborg.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: About time

          Agreed, I have Facebook blocked in my hosts file, currently it contains nearly 1,500 blocked Facebook tracking domains! That covers the like button, but also advertising and various tracking cookies and scripts.

          1. pavel.petrman

            Re: About time

            The number of domains doesn't really say much, it's the number of requests and the information they contain that counts. Once you are sure you have blocked everything, you can than compare the number of requests blocked and examine their payload. Only then can you reach a meaningful conclusion.

            I use different approach to avoid tracking - detection and blocking out-of-origin content, which is more informative than the number of blocked domains because you celarly see which website loads what (and the correlation of browsing data with other data sources is what I talk about in the original comment). Google is nearly everywhere and is not filtered by any ad-blocking solution because the content doesn't really bug the user visually the way ads do, and sometimes is even deemed useful. And I find it quite interesting that from all social network venues out there it's the readers of The Register who somehow seem to believe that Google is eternally immune to leaks.

            Even if you don't like it and are swayed by the Schrems case publicity (it is very natrual for humans to assign more importance to more visible events and phenomena), it still holds that you can avoid Facebook much more easily than Google and that Google has way more data on an average European citizen than Facebook can have.

        2. pavel.petrman

          Re: About time

          Re "What rock have you been living under": Please note that I don't say Facebook is harmless. I merely state that the Facebook button, which is the topic of the article, is nothing compared to Google's reach. I know that The Register Forums is a den of Google fanboys, which sadly doesn't change a thing about Google being one or more orders of magnitude bigger slurper than Facebook.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: About time

        “Facebook has only the data you and your friends willingly input”

        No...while I’m sure FB may have glanced at the information you provide via status updates, sharing and photos I would suggest it has very little value beyond location data for trying to match ads to your environment.

        The real value FB gets is from the larger “picture” of you life you provide from other websites/apps that have Facebook and Google tracking code embedded directly, “promotions” or other feedback you unintentionally provide via clicks. Combined with the likelihood that your friends will like similar things.

        You’re not Pavel - you’re just metadata (my guess is 30-45 male, involved in IT combined with location data and purchasing history) that appeals to advertisers selling X and your friends get dragged along for friendly fire.

      3. the Jim bloke Bronze badge

        Re: About time

        plus a "like" button on only the most questionable websites (even Twitter has more coverage in this area).

        you DID notice the row of icons at the bottom of the article, I'm sure, and are indulging in that favourite pastime of commentards, of trolling El Reg...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: About time

          "you DID notice the row of icons at the bottom of the article, I'm sure, and are indulging in that favourite pastime of commentards, of trolling El Reg..."

          Check what happens if you hover over the FB icon or look at the code behind it - it's not the standard FB like button.

        2. pavel.petrman

          Re: About time

          Re "Row of buttons": no, I have not, since I block most irrelevant things as a matter of course. What I se with The Register, are requests to www.theregister.co.uk, nir.regmedia.co.uk, forums.theregister.co.uk, which are okay, and than admedo.com, google-analytics.com, and googletagservices.com, no Facebook (I'll look into it later). Even with no requests sent to Facebook this and other sites seem to work fine, which can't be said of requests to Google which, when blocked, usually mean you have to work hard around the crippled functionality or, even more usually, give you a plain blank page.

  2. LDS Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "the conflation of data protection laws and antitrust laws"

    Why not? Do they want not only to hoard, but also hoard unchallenged?

  3. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Federal Cartel Office

    I'll bet that the FCO have a monopoly on policing cartels.

  4. Rich 2

    Quite sad

    It's rather sad that faecesbook are being made to cut their data slurping because of some anti-competition law! What about good ol' decency and privacy?

    So far, I have seen very little to instil any faith in the new GDPR - so far ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has changed. Goolies, FB, etc etc etc are STILL munching up as much data as they can shake a stick at and STILL nothing is being done to stop it. I have heard that their's stuff going through the courts, but it's so bloody glacially slow that we'll have blown ourselves up long before it comes to anything.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Quite sad

      Actually this type semi-tangential charge to the main concern is often what is first use to break a cartel or criminal enterprise. Al Capone was nailed for income tax evasion and given a rather harsh sentence for it. The goal here is to some how to force Suckerberg to act more ethically by any means possible. What caught my eye was the Fatherland has the authority to levy some rather mouth-watering fines if Suckerberg refuses to shape up. This is not an uncommon tactic, you nail the slime with something that is relatively easy to prove initially and then maybe move up the ladder of charges as the case unfolds.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Quite sad

      Schrems logdged a complaint against Facebook on day 1 of GDPR. But it takes time for the investigation and the follow-up court cases.

  5. pavel.petrman

    The Like button is at least visible

    I do hope this is just a beginning and that Google's next.

    "this happens even when they visit a site but don't press the "Like" button" - there is at least a clear marker of Facebook's presence on the page. Not that there are too many of them. Google, on the other hand, is almost everywhere (Ad*, Apis and CDNs, Fonts, Analytics, Maps and Map Apis) and they have much broader coverage thanks to Android (which has means to be far more telling than your friend and watch list on Facebook).

    1. HolySchmoley

      Re: The Like button is at least visible

      "there is at least a clear marker of Facebook's presence on the page"

      Oh no there isn't, on most of the pages that slurp data for the creepy Zuckerberg surveillance corporation. Have you not heard of the 'Facebook pixel'?

  6. adam payne Silver badge

    Facebook has also disputed the idea it has a monopoly in social media, with boss Mark Zuckerberg saying last year that it “feels like new competitors are coming up every day” Does he not know what a monopoly is?!?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Paraphrasing Arnauld Amaric

    NoScript eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

    The lot. Facebook Like Button is not any different from the LinkedIn button, Tw*tter button and the slurpage by Google from ads on the page. Pox on all of their houses.

  8. ratfox Silver badge
    Trollface

    I think I've found the perfect solution

    To make sure users are properly informed, how about this: Every time you access Facebook, a small window shows up on the screen titled "Your privacy". Follows a small text of a few sentences explaining that Facebook might be using your data to improve your experience. You can click on "OK", or on "More information" to get the complete picture of what is going on.

    Don't you think that this will solve the problem once and for all?

    1. Oengus Silver badge

      Re: I think I've found the perfect solution

      Right idea wrong implementation.

      Whenever you log into Faecesbook the first page must display all of the private data held by Feacesbook on the individual and text describing the extent that each piece of data is used for. All data added since the last login must be highlighted. The only way to move on is to scroll to the "next" button at the very bottom of the page. If they do this people MIGHT realise how much data Suckerberg is slurping about them. Doing it as a small window that can be ignored will never raise awareness.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Go on Germany, just ban FB outright

    followed by Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and the rest

    Then hit Google where it hurts.

    You will become a beacon for privacy loving people all over the world.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Go on Germany, just ban FB outright

      WhatsApp is already quasi illegal in Europe. If you use it and allow your contact data to be uploaded to WhatsApp, you are effectively breaking GDPR. If you don't allow WhatsApp to upload your contact data, you cannot start new conversations with friends and any friend that starts a conversation with you will only be listed with their telephone number, no names (I know, I tried it when the German DPOs declared WhatsApp in contravention of GDPR - and the previous data protection laws). We switched to Threema and Signal, which are, theoretically, compliant.

  10. big_D Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Wow...

    Did Facebook just admit to breaking GDPR/ DSVGO as a defence against being a monopoly?

    That must be the DPO's best day of the year, Facebook incriminates itself in a public statement!

    1. FrogsAndChips Bronze badge

      Re: Wow...

      Sorry, I must have missed something, where in the article does it say that FB incriminates itself?

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Wow...

        "Since 2016, we have been in regular contact with the Bundeskartellamt and have responded to their requests. As we outlined publicly in 2017, we disagree with their views and the conflation of data protection laws and antitrust laws, and will continue to defend our position."

        They are saying that the issue is data protection and not antitrust.

        1. FrogsAndChips Bronze badge

          Re: Wow...

          I still don't read it as FB admitting that they've breached DP laws - maybe I'm just too thick to read between the lines. Even if we all know they're constantly doing it, that would be PR suicide.

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