A regional court in Germany has ruled in favor of Facebook’s appeal against a February order by the nation’s antitrust watchdog, preventing the social media giant from combining user data collected from its various platforms, which include Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
An order from the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) in February had accused Facebook of abusing its dominant position in the social media market, which has allowed it to collect user data without consent. The watchdog also objected to the company’s collection of data on individuals who do not have Facebook accounts, with “shadow profiles” gathered from their browsing history and friends’ activity. The order would effectively have separated Facebook’s platforms when it comes to user data collection.
Facebook initially appealed the order, and today, a Dusseldorf court granted a suspension.
“The suspension of the order means that Facebook does not have to implement the decision of the Federal Cartel Office for the time being,” the Higher Regional Court in Dusseldorf said Monday.
Later on Monday, the FCO confirmed it would appeal the regional court’s decision, taking the case to High Court. But it could now take years of legal battles before the watchdog is in a position to mandate any change in Facebook’s current practices, according to Tech Crunch.
Andreas Mundt, head of the FCO, said in a statement:
“We are convinced that with the available antitrust laws we can take regulatory action. To clarify these questions we will file an appeal to the Federal Court of Justice.”
The FCO had collaborated with EU privacy authorities during their investigation of the social media company’s data collection practices, ultimately concluding that its dominant market position was being leveraged for “exploitative abuse.”
The order was a bold and largely unprecedented attempt to address growing public concern over data privacy, by extending the interpretation of existing competition laws, and the rebuke at the first layer of appeals is a bad sign for the FCO. The case had garnered global attention as a test of regulators’ ability to act on public concern and rein in tech giants on privacy issues.
According to Mundt:
“Data and data handling are decisive factors for competition in the digital economy. The Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf has today responded differently than the [FCO] to key legal issues. These legal issues are highly significant for the future state of competition in the digital economy.”