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June 2020
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Top German Court Rules Facebook's Collection And Use Of Data From Third-Party Sources Requires 'Voluntary' Consent

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Back at the end of 2017, Germany's competition authority, the Bundeskartellamt, made a preliminary assessment that Facebook's data collection is "abusive". At issue was a key component of Facebook's business model: amassing huge quantities of personal data about people, not just from their use of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, but also from other sites. If a third-party website has embedded Facebook code for things such as the 'like' button or a 'Facebook login' option, or uses analytical services such as 'Facebook Analytics', data will be transmitted to Facebook via APIs when a user calls up that third party's website for the first time. The user is not given any choice in this, and it was this aspect that the Bundeskartellamt saw as "abusive".After the preliminary assessment, in February 2019 the German competition authority went on to forbid Facebook from gathering information in this way without voluntary permission from users:

(i) Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram can continue to collect data. However, assigning the data to Facebook user accounts will only be possible subject to the users' voluntary consent. Where consent is not given, the data must remain with the respective service and cannot be processed in combination with Facebook data.(ii) Collecting data from third party websites and assigning them to a Facebook user account will also only be possible if users give their voluntary consent.If consent is not given for data from Facebook-owned services and third party websites, Facebook will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data. Facebook is to develop proposals for solutions to this effect.
Naturally, Facebook appealed against this decision, and the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court found in its favor. However, as the New York Times reports, the Federal Court of Justice, which monitors compliance with the German constitution, has just reversed that:
On Tuesday, the federal court said regulators were right in concluding that Facebook was abusing its dominant position in the market."There are neither serious doubts about Facebook's dominant position on the German social network market nor the fact that Facebook is abusing this dominant position," the court said. "As the market-dominating network operator, Facebook bears a special responsibility for maintaining still-existing competition in the social networking market."
Needless to say, Facebook vowed to fight on -- and to ignore the defeat for the moment. The case goes back to the lower court to rule again on the matter, but after the Federal Court of Justice guidance, it is unlikely to be in Facebook's favor this time. There is also the possibility that the case could be referred to the EU's top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, to give its opinion on the matter.Assuming that doesn't happen, the ruling could have a big impact not only on Facebook, but on all the other Internet giants that gather personal details from third-party sites without asking their visitors for explicit, voluntary permission. Although the ruling only applies to Germany, the country is the EU's biggest market, and likely to influence what happens elsewhere in the region, and maybe beyond. One bad outcome might be even more pop-ups asking you to give permission to have your data gathered, and be tracked as you move around the Internet.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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posted at: 12:00am on 25-Jun-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Judge Sides With Twitter Over Devin Nunes In Case Over Satirical Internet Cow: Section 230 Removes Twitter From Frivolous Case

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Well, some small bit of good news in the Section 230 front: after a judge was clearly skeptical over Devin Nunes' arguments for why Twitter should be involved in Nunes' frivolous SLAPP suit over a satirical internet cow that mocks him, the judge has now announced that Section 230 of the CDA rightly protects Twitter.In a letter that quickly dismisses each of Nunes's lawyer Steven Biss's silly arguments why 230 doesn't apply, the judge basically says "nope" to all of those arguments and tells Twitter's lawyer to draft an order dismissing Twitter from the case. Here's just one part of the letter:

The court must look to 47 USC Section 230 and the caselaw interpreting the act and analyze plaintiff's allegations to determin if Twitter has immunity under the act. Plaintiff would have Twitter be held liable for defamation for the content placed on its internet platform by others and would have Twitter found to be negligent for not removing the content place on its internet platform by others. Section 230 reads in subsection (c)(1) "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider". Plaintiff seeks to have the court treat Twitter as the publisher or speaker of the content provided by others based on its allowing or not allowing certain content to be on its platform. The court refuses to do so and relies on the rulings in Zeran v. Am. Online... The court in Zeran stated "Section 230 creates a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service. Specifically section 230 precludes courts from entertaining claims that would place a computer service provider in a publisher's role. Thus, lawsuits seeking to hold a service provider liable for its exercise of a publisher's traditional editorial functions -- such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content -- are barred".
The judge is also not at all impressed by Biss's argument of "but Twitter is so biased!" That doesn't matter:
The plaintiff also alleges that Twitter has a bias towards a point of view and that bias is so extreme that it governs its decisions regarding content that is allowed on its internet platform and that course of conduct makes it a content provider. The allegations in the Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc.... were similar to those by the plaintiff in this case concerning content decisions being one sided and the court in the Nemet case ruled that the service provider was immune from suit pursuant to 47 USC Section 230.The court finds the issues in this case substantially similar to the issues presented in the Zeran and Nemet cases and applying the rulings in the Zeran and Nemet cases the court finds that Twitter is not a content provider based on the allegations by Plaintiff in this lawsuit. The Court finds that Twitter is immune from the defamation claims of plaintiff based on 47 USC Section 230.
As an interesting side note, the court also cites Section (c)(2) of Section 230, the rarely used part of the law that says you also can't be liable for moderation decisions. A lot of cases around 230 don't even consider the (c)(2) issues, because (c)(1) is usually enough to dismiss. But here, the court basically says both of them are good enough to get Twitter out of the lawsuit.
The court further finds that 47 USC Section 230 (c)(2) provides immunity for all civil liability and therefore Twitter is immune from Plaintiff's negligence claim based on the allegations in the complaint and the courts application of the rulings in the Zeran and Nemet cases to the allegations in this case.
Next up: hopefully the court will dismiss the underlying defamation claims against the two satirical Twitter accounts (Devin Nunes' Cow and Devin Nunes' Mom) along with political consultant Liz Mair.

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posted at: 12:00am on 25-Jun-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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