BERLIN: Facebook and other tech giants have come under pressure in Europe for some time, but now Germany’s antitrust agency seems willing to strike at the heart of Facebook’s business model and its collection of third-party user data.

According to Andreas Mundt, the head of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, Facebook could be banned from collecting and processing certain third-party data, depending on the outcome of an investigation that his office is conducting.

Due to report in the summer, the Cartel Office is examining how Facebook collects user data to enable advertisers to serve personalised ads.

“We are blazing a trail in this case,” Mundt told the Financial Times in an interview. “We are looking very closely at the connection between data and market dominance, data and market power, and the possible abuse of data collection.”

He said Facebook, which has 31m users in Germany, collects user data “by tracking them on sites where there is merely a Facebook like or share button, even when users don’t click on it”.

“Just the fact that they are there means they’re being tracked,” he said, adding that there was “huge interest in the case, not only in Europe but also worldwide” because authorities were “for the first time really going into the machine room of data-driven platforms”.

Mundt’s interview with the Financial Times is the latest broadside against Facebook and comes just weeks after the Federal Cartel Office issued a similar warning shortly before Christmas.

Facebook at the time said it would co-operate with the investigation, but disputed that it was dominant in Germany.

The company has also questioned the timing of the German authorities’ move, considering that tough data protection laws will be introduced later this year under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“With the GDPR, Europe is already putting in place strong enforcement measures that hold Facebook and other companies accountable for privacy and data protection,” Facebook said. “We will comply with these new rules, just as we have complied with existing data protection law in Europe.”

Sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff