Facebook loses antitrust case in Germany due to data collection

The decision may not be the last word. A trial court has yet to issue a ruling on the matter, a process that some antitrust attorneys consider a formality given the final ruling of the higher court. In theory, the lower court could rule in Facebook’s favor, filing another appeal in the higher federal court.

Another wild card: German officials could refer the matter to the European Union Court of Justice, the highest court of the European Union that resolves many thorny legal issues in member states, said Rupprecht Podszun, professor of competition law at the University from Düsseldorf.

Facebook said it would continue to fight and would not make any immediate changes, arguing that it has months before it must comply. “We will continue to defend our position that there is no antitrust abuse,” Facebook said in a statement.

Facebook is the latest technology company to suffer a regulatory setback. This month, the European Commission announced a formal investigation by Apple into its treatment of third-party application developers. Amazon is also under antitrust scrutiny in Brussels. In Washington, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are facing investigations by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and Congress.

Germany’s top antitrust agent Andreas Mundt has long lobbied for regulators to be more aggressive in taking on Facebook and other tech giants. He has argued that Facebook uses the data it collects from users to strengthen its position on its rivals, hurting competition.

On Tuesday, Mr. Mundt applauded the court decision, saying that data is one of the most valuable assets in the digital economy and should be a central part of antitrust law enforcement. He said the court decision “provides important information on how we should deal with the issue of data and competition in the future.”

“The data is an essential factor for economic strength and a decisive criterion for evaluating the power of the online market,” Mundt said in a statement. “As long as data is collected and used illegally, it should be possible to intervene under antitrust law to avoid abuse of market power.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.