Germany’s competition regulator has ordered Facebook to stop combining user data among its various services, such as WhatsApp and Instagram, without explicit consent.
The Bundeskartellamt, or FCO, said that the social media giant has abused its market dominance to gather the data.
Users will also have to give explicit permission before Facebook can assign data collected from third-party websites to a member’s account.
The FCO made the decision today following a three-year enquiry that began in March 2016.
President of the FCO Andreas Mundt said that data is now a “decisive factor in competition” and that data is the “essential factor for establishing the company’s dominant position”.
Facebook disagrees with the FCO’s ruling and said it will appeal. It argues the matter is for data regulators, not competition authorities.
“The GDPR specifically empowers data protection regulators – not competition authorities – to determine whether companies are living up to their responsibilities,” the social media company said in a blog.
Facebook added that the sharing of data between services benefits users by showing them more relevant ads, help advertisers measure the success of their campaigns and make it easier for Facebook to protect its users.
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The US firm added that it complies with GDPR. However, a data breach in October last year could see it penalised with a maximum GDPR fine of $1.6bn.
The 15-year-old company has become the centre of a string of privacy scandals in recent years.
The ruling comes weeks after Facebook revealed it plans to merge messaging services on its WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger services.
Morten Brøgger, CEO at secure messaging platform Wire, welcomed the move by the FCO.
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“The lesson here is that you cannot simply trust firms that rely on the exchange of data as its main offering, and firms using Facebook-owned applications should have a rethink about the platforms they use to do business,” he said.
Facebook has one month to appeal the decision before it comes into legal force.
The ruling will only impact Facebook’s activity in Germany, although regulators in other countries are likely to take note.