Germany: Relationship Between Data Protection And Competition Laws

Last Updated: 21 December 2017
Article by Jorg Karenfort and Josef Hainz

Data-related businesses occupy an increasingly important role in the modern economy. During the past decade, companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba and Google/Alphabet have sprung up and become veritable giants by collecting and selling user data. Big data is currently one of the most discussed topics in competition and antitrust circles as it poses new questions, which are partly interrelated with consumer and data-protection rules.

The German Federal Cartel Office ("FCO") is currently conducting an investigation into Facebook, and has just released its preliminary assessment that Facebook's collection and use of data from third-party sources violates competition law. Assuming the preliminary assessment is maintained by the FCO, its investigation represents an important step towards defining the competition law framework applicable to the collection and trade of personal data.

Background

In order to use Facebook, users must agree to the company's terms and conditions. These allow Facebook to collect and analyze a large amount of personal data, which in turn enables Face-book to provide targeted information on its users to its advertising customers.

The FCO has drawn a distinction between user data collected through the use of Facebook ("on Facebook") and user data obtained from other sources ("off Facebook"). "On Facebook" data are not subject to the current proceedings – the FCO, however, expressly leaves open whether there may also be infringements for such data. Instead, the current investigation concerns "off Facebook" data. This is collected both through services owned by Facebook (WhatsApp, Instagram) and also embedded Facebook products (the "Like" button) on third-party websites and apps.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the case, during its investigation the FCO was in close con-tact with the European Commission, competition authorities of other EU Member States, data protection ombudsmen and consumer protection associations.

The FCO's preliminary assessment

The FCO's view is that Facebook is dominant in the German market for social networks. Accord-ing to the FCO's preliminary assessment, this product market does not include professional net-works (such as LinkedIn and Xing), messaging services (like WhatsApp) and other social media (such as YouTube or Twitter). According to the FCO, Facebook's dominance stems from its share of over 90% of the relevant market, intensified by significant network effects. 

The FCO's preliminary assessment is that Facebook abused its dominant position by making the use of its social network conditional on its users granting it approval to collect their "off Facebook" data and to merge that data with the user's Facebook account. The FCO's view is that users thereby lose control over their personal data. In addition, there is an alleged potential harm for Facebook's advertising customers, because they face a dominant supplier of advertising space.

Since this is the first case of its kind, it is being conducted by the FCO as an administrative pro-ceeding. This means that Facebook will not be fined if the provisional findings are upheld but the FCO may prohibit certain behaviour or require the company to make concessions.

What is the potential impact?

The FCO's investigation has the potential to considerably widen the scope of competition law enforcement. While the FCO emphasizes that not every infringement of data protection law by a dominant company automatically violates competition law, it also indicates a general willingness to protect parties in an (allegedly) imbalanced negotiation position. Since early 2017, the FCO has had enhanced consumer law powers (and is currently conducting sector inquiries in relation to price comparison websites and smart TVs). However, such tools need to be distinguished from the FCO's classic competition law enforcement tools, in particular the ability to impose significant fines on companies that are part of a cartel or abuse a dominant position.

While the FCO's case against Facebook undoubtedly covers new ground, it is not the first time that competition authorities have dealt with the relationship between data protection and antitrust rules. In 2008, the European Commission investigated the potential competitive effects of collecting and exploiting a wide range of online usage data in its Google/DoubleClick merger control proceedings. The Facebook/WhatsApp merger proceedings also illustrate an increased awareness by competition agencies of the economic significance of data. While the European Commission cleared that transaction in 2014, three years later Facebook was fined €110 million for providing misleading information during the merger investigation about its ability to establish reliable automated matching between Facebook and WhatsApp user accounts. The case also led to Germany amending its merger control rules to take into account the increased importance of data (as under the previous rules, companies such as WhatsApp with low revenues but a powerful data position slipped under the merger control thresholds).

The FCO's final decision in the Facebook investigation is not expected until summer 2018. But the preliminary assessment reinforces that companies with data-intense business models now, more than ever, need to be familiar with competition law restrictions and how they may be applied to data. That's in addition to the impact that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May 2018, will have on all business with activities in Europe.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries. www.dentons.com.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
27 Sep 2018, Conference, Budapest, Hungary

Dentons will be sponsoring the Future Law conference taking place on September 27 in Budapest. The event aims at providing a global view on the possible responses of legal industry to technological challenges and will host leading experts in the field.

2 Oct 2018, Other, London, UK

The Build-to-rent (BTR) market in the UK has grown substantially in recent years. In ever-increasing numbers, investors and developers are buying up land and properties for the purpose of BTR - benefitting from both value rises in their acquired assets and from rising rents.

2 Oct 2018, Other, London, UK

Dentons is pleased to invite you to register for a place at an interactive debate, "Is Franchising Good or Bad? And if so, for whom?", which is part of Dentons' International Retail Franchising programme.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Oppenhoff & Partner Rechtsanwälte
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Oppenhoff & Partner Rechtsanwälte
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions