Top German court reimposes data curbs on Facebook

KARLSRUHE, Germany, June 23 (Reuters) - Facebook must comply with an order by Germany’s antitrust watchdog to curb data collection from users, a top German court ruled on Tuesday, in a setback for the U.S. social network company.

The Federal Court’s interim order, which suspends a decision by a lower court, backs the Federal Cartel Office’s original view that Facebook had abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their consent.

“I’m delighted by this decision,” said cartel office President Andreas Mundt. The ruling showed that “if data are collected and exploited illegally, it should be possible to take antitrust action to prevent the abuse of market power.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Germany has been at the forefront of a global backlash against Facebook, which faces increasing criticism that it is being used to spread political disinformation.

The country’s antitrust watchdog had objected in particular to how Facebook pools data on people from third-party apps - including its own WhatsApp and Instagram - and online tracking of people who do not have accounts via Facebook “like” or “share” buttons.

In its decision, the Federal Court said it did not object to the cartel office’s assertions that Facebook was abusing its market dominance and that the company’s use of data lacked adequate consent on the part of its users.

In its original order in Feb. 2019, the cartel office said Facebook would only be allowed to assign data from WhatsApp or Instagram to its main Facebook app accounts if users consented voluntarily.

Collecting data from third-party websites and assigning it to Facebook would similarly require consent. If such consent is withheld, Facebook would have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data.

Facebook appealed against the cartel office’s original action, which was suspended by a regional court in Duesseldorf last July. Facebook can continue to press its case in Duesseldorf but must abide by the Federal Court injunction in the meantime. (Reporting by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Jane Merriman)