The German Federal Cartel Office's decision to order Facebook to change how it treats users' personal information this week is an indication that the antitrust water could eventually face platform power.
A European Commission source we spoke to, who commented personally, described it as "clear groundbreaking" and "a great cause," even without Facebook being fined a penny.
The FCO's decision instead prohibits the social network from linking user data across different platforms. It is owned, unless it receives people's consent (nor may it use its services subject to such consent). Facebook is also prohibited from collecting and linking data to users from third-party websites, such as through tracking pixels and social plugins.
The order is not yet in force, and Facebook is appealing, but should it come in, force the social networks to be de facto shrunk by having their platforms siled at the data level.
To comply with the order, Facebook will have to ask users to consent to the freedom to become data-mined ̵
Yes, Facebook can still manipulate the outcome it wants from users, but to do so opens it for further challenge under the EU data protection law, as the current approach to consent is already challenged.
The only "alternative" Facebook offer is to tell users that they can delete their account. Not doing so would stop the company from tracking you around the rest of the regular network anyway. Facebook's tracking infrastructure is also embedded across the wider Internet, so it also profiles non-users.
EU data protection regulators are still investigating a large number of consent-related GDPR complaints.
But the German FCO, who said it contacted with privacy authorities during the investigation of Facebook's data collection, has called this kind of behavior "exploitative abuse," and has also considered the social service to hold a monopoly position on the German market.
So now there are two lines of legal attack – the law of antitrust and privacy – threatening Facebook (and indeed other adtech companies) surveillance-based business model across Europe.
A year ago, German antitrust authority also announced a probe in the online advertising sector, which responded to concerns about lack of transparency in the market. Its work here is by no means done.
The lack of a big flashy fine associated with German FCO's order against Facebook makes this week's story less of a big headline than the recent anti-trust fines from the EU Commission handed over to Google – for example, the record breaking $ The 5BN penalty issued last summer for competitive behavior related to the Android mobile platform.
But the decision is undoubtedly just as, if not more significant because of structural remedies ordered on Facebook. These remedies have been resembled an internal breakdown of the company – with forced internal separation of their multiple platform products at the data level.
This, of course, goes against (ad) the platform giant's preferred path which has long been tearing down the modest walls; pool user data from several internal (and indeed external) sources, as opposed to the concept of informed consent; and my all the personal (and sensitive) things to build identity-linked profiles to train algorithms that predict (and oppose manipulate) individual behavior.
Because if you can predict what a person should do, you can choose which ad to earn to increase the chance they want to click on. (Or as Mark Zuckerberg says it: "Senator, we run ads.")
This means that a regulatory intervention that interferes with an ad tech giant's ability to merge and process personal data begins to look very interesting. Because a Facebook that cannot participate in the data pot across its scattered social empire – or indeed across the regular site – would not be such a huge gig when it comes to data insight. And also surveillance monitoring.
Each of the platforms would be forced to be a more discreet (and, discreet) type of business.
Competing against computer-aided platforms with a common owner – instead of a single interconnected mega-surveillance network – is also starting to sound almost possible. It suggests a game field that is reset, if not fully leveled.
(While in Android, the European Commission did not decide on any specific remedies – so Google could come up with "fixes" itself to shape the most self-service "fix" it can think of.)
Meanwhile just look at where Facebook is now aiming for: A technical association of the back end to their different social products.
Such a merger would collapse even more walls and completely enmesh platforms that started life as completely separate products before being folded into Facebook's empire (also, let's not forget, via surveillance-informed acquisitions).
Facebook's plan to unite its products on a single backend platform looks very much like an attempt to throw away technical barriers against anti-terrorism. It is least difficult to imagine breaking up a company if several separate products are merged into a unified backend that works to cross and combine data streams.
Against Facebook's sudden desire to technically unite their full flush of dominant social networking Instagram; WhatsApp) is a rising drumming of calls for competitive scrutiny of tech giants.
This has been building for years, when the market power – and even democracy – the potential – of monitoring capitalism data giants has telescoped for display.
Conversations to break up tech giants no longer carry a suggestive blow. Regulators are routinely asked if it's time. As the European Commission's competition manager, Margrethe Vestager, was when she gave down Google's last massive antitrust final last summer.
Her answer was then that she was not sure he was up, is the right answer, and prefers to try remedies that can allow competitors to take a tour, while emphasizing the importance of law enforcement to ensure "openness and fairness in the relationship between business and platforms".
However, it is interesting that the idea of breaking up technical giants now plays as well as political theater, suggesting that successful successful consumer technology companies – which have long been eating out of shiny convenience-based marketing demands – have become so saccharin sweet through lure of "free" services – have lost a great deal of their populist traits, dogged as you have been with so many scandals.
From terrorist content and hate speech, to election involvement, exploitation of children, bullying, abuse. It is also about how they arrange their tax matters.
The public perception of tech giants has matured as the cost of their "free" services has scaled itself. The startups have also been established. People do not see a new generation of "cuddly capitalists", but another group of multinational high-pole, but remote, money-making machines that take more than they give back to the communities they eat.
Google's trick of naming every Android iteration after another sweet treat, provides an interesting parallel to (also now changing) public perceptions around sugar, after closer attention to health problems. What makes the sick sweetness mask? And after the sugar tax, we now have politicians who demand a social media fee.
This week, the UK's main opposition vice president is required to set up a standalone Internet regulatory framework with the ability to break technical monopoly.
Talking about breaking up well-oiled, wealth-concentrating machines is seen as a populist voter. And companies that political leaders used to flatter and seek out PR opportunities are treated as political punchbags; Called to participate in the unpleasant grilling of hard-hitting committees, or taken to a vicious task verbally on the highest profile public podium. (Although some non-democratic heads of state are still keen on hitting tech giant flesh.)
In Europe, Facebook's repeated stumbling blocks of Britain's parliamentary requests last year for Zuckerberg traveled to meet political decision-makers' questions certainly not unnoticed.  Zuckerberg's empty chair on the DCMS committee has become both a symbol of the company's inability to accept a broader corporate responsibility for its products and an indication of market failure; The CEO is so powerful that he does not feel responsible to anyone; neither his most vulnerable users nor their elected representatives. Therefore, British politicians on both sides of the time make political capital by talking about cutting tech giants down to size.
The political fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal is far from complete.
Quite how the UK regulator could successfully swing a regulator hammer to break up a global Internet giant like Facebook whose headquarters in the United States is another matter. But politicians have already crossed the rubicon of public opinion and are relishing to talk to having a trip.
It represents a sea change as opposed to the neo-liberal consensus that allowed the competition authorities to sit on their hands for more than a decade since technology was instantly hoovered up to people's data and bagged rivals, and basically went on to transform from highly scalable startup to market-distorting giants with network scale data network to snag users and buy or block competing ideas.
The political spirit seems willing to go there, and now the mechanism of breaking platforms' distorting holdings in markets can also shape.
The traditional antitrust compensation for breaking a company along its business lines still looks uneven when facing the blowing pace of digital technology. The problem is to deliver such a solution quickly enough that the business has not already reconfigured to route around the reset.
The Commission's antitrust decisions on tech beat have boosted impressively in pace with Vestager's watch. Still, it still feels like looking at paper puffs that twist through the treacle to try to catch a sprinter. (And Europe has not gone as far as trying to impose a platform breach.)
But the German FCO ruling against Facebook hints in an alternative way forward to regulate the domination of digital monopolies: Structural instruments that focus  Vestager, whose designation as EU competition manager may come to the end this year (although other commission roles are still in potential and tantaliz objections), has promoted this idea itself.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4s Today's program in December, she picked up cold water on the stock problem of breaking tech giants up – instead of the commission seeing how big Businesses gained access to data and resources as a means to limit their power. That's exactly what the German FCO has done in order to Facebook.
At the same time, Europe's updated data protection framework has received the greatest attention for the size of the financial penalties that can be issued for major breaches of compliance. But the regulation also gives data watchdogs the opportunity to limit or prohibit treatment. And that power can likewise be used to transform a rights-based business model or snuff out such a business altogether.
The merger of privacy and antitrust problems is really just a reflection of the complexity of the challenge regulators now facing trying to rein in digital monopolies. But they are tools to meet that challenge.
Spoken in an interview with TechCrunch this fall, Europe's data protection officer Giovanni Buttarelli told us that the block's privacy regulators are moving towards more common work with antitrust agencies to respond to the platform's power. "Europe wants to talk to a voice, not just in terms of data protection, but by approaching this issue of digital dividends, better monopoly – not by sector," he said. "But first common enforcement and better cooperation is the key."
The German FCO's decision represents concrete evidence of what kind of regulatory cooperation could – finally – break tech giants.
Blogging in support of the decision this week, Buttarelli stated: "It is not necessary for the competition authorities to enforce other jurisdictions; rather, they just need to identify where the most powerful companies set a bad example and harm consumer interests. assessment. "
He also had his own prediction for surveillance technologists, warning: " This case is the top of the iceberg – all digital information companies relying on tracking, profiling and targeting should be noticed. "
So perhaps the latter have the regulators figured out how to move fast and break things.