It used to be that the only regulators interested in Facebook and Google's data-controlling ways were privacy guards. No longer.
The competition authorities are increasingly involved in the action, and it is a controversial trend, especially in Europe.
On Wednesday, the UK Competition Authority (CMA) became the latest to join in the fun of opening a probe in Facebook and Google's dominance of the digital advertising market. The survey is largely about competition in that market, but it will also examine the issue of "consumer control over data collection practices."
"We propose to consider whether consumers have the knowledge, skills, and desire to control how data about them is collected and used by the web platforms and how far they can exercise such choices," CMA said. The relationship between consumers and consumer-based online platforms and about consumer choices is limited by terms and conditions or other practices, such as website or app design. "
A New Global Trend [1
9659006] The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) conducted a similar study last year, also in the digital advertising industry with a partial focus on data control.
"ACCC is particularly concerned with the length, complexity and ambiguity of electronic terms and privacy policies, including … deals with take-it-or-leave -it terms, "said when a preliminary report was released in December." Without sufficient information and with limited choice, consumers are unable to To make informed decisions, which can both harm consumers and prevent competition. "
In the United States, a dozen state lawyers generally raised the same problem in a submission to the Federal Trade Commission last year, it is still seeing how the FTC will respond.
Closer to the UK, Germany's federal cartel office confirmed in February that Facebook had unlawfully combined user data from various sources, such as WhatsApp and third-party websites, without the consent of users. Antitrust guard dog banned Facebook from doing this in Germany anymore, even though the company then launched a complaint.
The German Competition Authority's justification for tackling the problem was similar to the Australian watchdog: consumers cannot say no to platforms they must use to participate in regular online life.
The German decision was however, controversial, since it was seen as entering into the domain of European privacy law.
Same problem, different regulators
Once, the EU antitrust regulators were better equipped to cope with Big Tech than their privacy people, because of their ability to beat companies with heavier fines. But last year, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force so that data protection authorities could find businesses up to 4% of their global annual revenue. GDPR is largely concerned with giving people more control over how the data is collected and used.
And therefore, legal experts have predicted that, in the case of personal data, EU competition guards would in the future probably stick to the question of the size of the data words that technical companies collect, rather than how they collect that information.
This forecast was apparently backed up in May by the European Commission's antitrust office, which said the German case was a material to the country in question applicable to competition law. EU lawmakers have "ensured that the type of behavior dealt with in the general data protection regulation," said the Commission.
But here we are: The UK Competition Authority, which is still part of the EU, addresses the same issue.
The UK authority said on Wednesday that the solutions to the problem could include forcing companies to introduce "justice by design" to the way they let people control how the data is collected and used.
"We will consider whether … there should be rules for which standards are fair, including when it is acceptable to restrict users from accessing a service if they do not agree with the service provider who accesses the data his, "CMA said.  None of Facebook or Google had responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.
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