Facebook may have to get your permission to use WhatsApp and Instagram data in Europe

Facebook may in future have you ask for your permission to combine what it knows about you from WhatsApp, Instagram and third-party websites.

The potential restriction is at an early stage at present …

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The BBC reports that the German competition watchdog has made a ruling that combining data in this way can only be done with user permission.

Germany’s competition authority has told Facebook it can only continue gathering so much data about users from beyond its app and website if it gets individuals’ explicit consent […]

Specifically, the Federal Cartel Office has ruled that Facebook’s various services can continue to collect data, but they cannot combine it with the user’s main Facebook account unless the member gives their voluntary consent, and collecting data from third-party websites and assigning it to a Facebook user’s account is likewise only allowed if that member has given the firm permission.

The BBC notes that the ruling only applies in Germany, and doesn’t come into immediate effect there as Facebook gets one month to challenge it before it becomes law. However, the report suggests that the decision ‘is likely to influence other regulators.’

One reason given for the ruling was that Facebook users may be unaware of the ways in which the social network collates information.

The ruling could affect the firm’s use of the Like and Share buttons on external sites, which lets Facebook track each visitor’s internet protocol (IP) address, web browser name and version, and other details that can be used to identify them. This is true, even if users never click on the buttons.

Likewise, the Facebook Login, which lets users avoid having to type in a unique username and password for each service, shares similar device-identifying information.

In addition, the company runs a scheme called the Facebook Pixel, which adds code to a third-party site to let its owners track whether ads run on Facebook converted the people who saw them into buyers.

Facebook has objected to the ruling, largely on the basis that it was made by the ‘wrong’ regulator. The decision was made by the antitrust regulator, while Facebook believes the data protection regulator has jurisdiction on such matters.

But if it does become law in Germany, privacy campaigners are already calling for the same protections to be extended worldwide.

UK-based campaign group Privacy International has said that if the German ruling holds, Facebook should extend the same rights to its other users […]

“Facebook should unify its privacy protections for its operations globally.”

It was revealed yesterday that Facebook will make it easier to see which brand uploaded your contact details for ad targeting purposes. Facebook only allows brands to do this if they have your permission to store and share personal data, so the new information will make it possible to check.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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