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EU top court sides with Germany in Meta antitrust case

July 4, 2023

Facebook owner Meta had challenged the 2019 finding of Germany's anti-monopoly watchdog, which ordered the firm to get consent from users for data collection. The ruling could imperil the position of other tech giants.

Woman walks past Meta logo at the firm's headquarters in Dublin, Ireland
Facebook owner Meta has lost in a challenge against Germany's competition regulatorImage: Brian Lawless/dpa/picture alliance

The Europe Union's top court ruled on Tuesday that member states' antitrust authorities are entitled to check whether tech companies comply with data protection rules.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) heard the case after the German antitrust agency ordered Facebook owner Meta to stop collecting users' data without consent.

In its 2019 finding, the agency also said that Facebook played a "dominant" role on the social network market and would thus be subject to "special antitrust obligations."

The agency found that agreeing to Facebook's terms of use to create an account, which include a provision on data collection, did not amount to free consent due to the network's dominant market role.

Meta had challenged the finding, arguing that the German anti-cartel watchdog had overstepped its authority. The agency then sought advice from the ECJ.

Tuesday's ruling could imperil the position of other tech giants such as Google, which employ similar data collection mechanisms.

What was said about the ruling?

"A national competition authority can find, in the context of the examination of an abuse of a dominant position, that the GDPR has been infringed," ECJ judges said, referring to the EU's data protection regulations.

However, the court said that regulators must "take into consideration any decision or investigation by the competent supervisory authority pursuant to that regulation."

A Meta spokesperson said that the firm was evaluating the decision and would have "more to say in good course."

"The judgment will have far-reaching effects on the business models used in the data economy," Andreas Mundt, head of Germany's antitrust agency, tweeted.

"The judgment sends a strong signal for competition law enforcement in the digital economy, a field where data are decisive for market power," Mundt continued. "When large internet companies use the very personal data of consumers, this usage can also be deemed abusive under competition law."

"This will mean that Meta has to seek proper consent and cannot use its dominant position to force people to agree to things they don't want," Max Schrems of the NOYB privacy activism NGO said.

sdi/jcg (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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