User consent will be required before combining WhatsApp and Instagram account data

Germany’s anti-monopoly regulator has ordered Facebook not to combine user data from its WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook apps without consent, after a major three-year investigation into potentially anti-competitive actions.

The federal cartel office announced on Thursday that it would be giving the technology company 12 months to change its data policies.

Once the ruling comes into force, Facebook will need “voluntary consent” from users before it can combine data from WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook (known internally as the “blue app” to distinguish it from the wider company).

Andreas Mundt, the president of the office, said: “We are carrying out what can be seen as an internal divestiture of Facebook’s data. In future, Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts.”

The company will also be forced to stop linking data collected from third-party websites, using technologies such as the Facebook tracking pixel, unless users again give voluntary consent.

The ruling will strike a blow against Facebook’s intention, revealed just last month, to fully integrate the technology underpinning its three main services so that users can send messages between them. The plan was widely seen as pre-emptive move to make it harder for competition regulators to force the company to spin-off one of its subsidiaries.

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