Facebook, NetzDG, Germany|Jan 16, 2019|CEP Staff

Tech Deploys Familiar Playbook to Dodge Regulation

Germany’s Efforts to Hold Facebook Accountable Concerning Privacy Run Into Same Problems as Online Extremism

Germany is again finding reason to regulate the tech industry. The country’s Federal Cartel Office, the Bundeskartellamt, recently expressed concerns about Facebook’s data sharing practices with its subsidiaries – WhatsApp and Instagram – as well as Twitter, and ordered Facebook to stop collecting certain user data. The office, which has been investigating Facebook since 2015, is expected to release rules in 2019 for what kind of data tech companies can and cannot collect. Facebook’s response was predictable, downplaying concerns and disputing the office’s findings. 

The news comes on the heels of last year’s NetzDG legislation, one of the most consequential tech laws in Europe. The law, which fines online platforms for failure to delete illegal content and represents a crucial measure to help combat hate speech online, experienced similar resistance when first announced and implemented.

“As usual, after being called out for their inaction and questionable business practices, Facebook and the tech industry predictably dig in to deny and deflect,” said CEP Executive Director David Ibsen. “German policymakers were right to regulate Big Tech with NetzDG for their failure to take down extremist content, and despite hysterical concerns about how the law would upend the industry, that has proven to be grossly exaggerated.”

Last year, a CEP report debunked tech companies’ claims about NetzDG, finding that the law had not in fact resulted in a flood of reports or over-blocking, and researchers uncovered no further evidence of false positives. For example, in the first six months of the year, Facebook’s July 2018 NetzDG transparency report covering the first six month of the year showed that 74 pieces of content were blocked in Germany for inciting hatred. Within the same period, Facebook removed a total of six million pieces of content globally for violating its community rules on hate speech.