Germany's chief market regulator has threatened curbs on how Facebook gathers data from users, accusing the US tech giant of abusing its dominant position as the world's leading social network website.
Andreas Mundt, head of Germany's main anti-trust agency the Federal Cartel Office (FCO), told the Financial Times in an interview that one possible outcome of an investigation last year could see Facebook banned from collecting and processing third-party user data in Germany.
The investigation by the FCO last year concluded in December that Facebook was "abusing" its dominant position by "making use of its social network conditional on its being allowed to limitlessly amass every kind of data generated by using third-party websites and merge it with the user's Facebook account".
It added: "These third-party sites include firstly services owned by Facebook such as WhatsApp or Instagram, and secondly websites and apps of other operators with embedded Facebook APIs."
Mundt (left) told the FT: "We are blazing a trail in this case.
“We are looking very closely at the connection between data and market dominance, data and market power, and the possible abuse of data collection.”
The German response reflects a rising chorus of regulatory rhetoric directed against big US tech groups and their dominance of social networks and ecommerce.
Last summer the European Union handed Google a massive €2.42bn fine for abusing its dominance as a global search engine by giving advantage to its own services in user searches and demoting those services of its competitors.
Facebook told the FT that it was co-operating with the German investigation, but defended its business practices, saying: "Many websites and apps use features provided by other companies for things like embedded content and advertising. We’re clear with people about how these tools from Facebook work and how to control them.”
The company is expected to come under further criticism on Thursday when UK prime minister Theresa May uses her platform at the Davos World Economic Forum to urge investors to pull cash from tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter if they fail to address the publication of terrorist and racist material on their websites.
Investors appeared unconcerned with Facebook shares up 0.19% in pre-market trade. Shares in Google were unchanged ahead of the US market open.
Picture courtesy of the FCO website