Meta to finally allow users to turn off cross-site tracking

Facebook and Instagram Account Center

Today, it's been announced by the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) that Meta will be introducing changes to its Accounts Center feature on the platform which most notably allows its users the ability to decide for themselves whether the platform tracks data across its apps and sites, including WhatsApp and Instagram.

It's yet to be made clear exactly what form these changes will take, and how visible it will be, but it has been confirmed in the announcement that disabling tracking would impact functionality across the platform, with the ability to cross-post across platforms being unavailable to anyone who turns the feature off.

The President of the FCO, Andreas Mundt, said “In 2019 we broke new ground in the area of competition law with our Facebook decision, which is based on the general prohibition of abusive practices. We now see that it’s a rocky road to a free and informed user decision on how their data is being processed, but it can be achieved. This development therefore marks an important step in the implementation of our decision, but the process is not yet concluded.”

The original decision that Mundt mentions in this quote is the one made in February 2019, where the FCO prohibited Meta (at the time, Facebook), from combining data from multiple sources like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, without the user's consent. This decision was appealed to the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf (OLG Düsseldorf) which began a long legal tussle between Meta and the European Union, the timeline of which is listed below.

  • 6 Feb 2019: FCO prohibits Meta from combining user data, Meta immediately appeals.
  • 26 Aug 2019: OLG Düsseldorf suspends the appeal upon Meta's request.
  • 23 Jun 2020: Federal Court of Justice (FCJ) revokes the appeal, and denies the suspension.
  • 24 Mar 2021: OLG Düsseldorf refers questions to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), suspending the proceeding until a decision is reached, primarily around GDPR, and if the FCO can interpret norms when weighing interests in decisions under competition law.
  • 20 Sep 2022: Advocate General Rantos answers the GDPR queries to be valid, and that the FCO can interpret it as such.
  • 4 July 2023: ECJ decision is expected to be announced on this date.

The plans for the Accounts Center were first presented to the FCO by Meta in February of 2023, which was discussed at length between the two parties. During the process, Meta made changes to the system making the user interaction with the system significantly more "transparent and comprehensible," as well as simplifying the ability to separate accounts from multiple platforms.

It isn't known yet when this new Accounts Center will be made generally available. However the FCO highlights the fact that the changes made to get to the current implementation are only to meet the requirements of the decision made in 2019, and may not be sufficient for other legislation within Germany such as the German Competition Act.

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