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Meta’s VR remains under antitrust abuse watch in Germany • TechCrunch


Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (FCO) is seeking recognition that Meta has removed virtual reality headsets from its social accounts — a change of direction the company announced last year. Augustwhen it started rolling out Meta accounts and Meta Horizon Profiles, said these accounts could be used to log into its virtual reality products in lieu of Facebook and Instagram logins (in the while still allowing the user to select the following options).

However, despite winning this concession from Meta, Bundeskartellamt does not close probe its VR services. They said today that they want to track how the tech giant presents these account selection options to VR users — so they’re scrutinizing the type of architecture of choice (and /or dark patterns) implements Meta — and also says they’re monitoring how Meta implements. recommends combining user data across different services.

That’s particularly interesting as the German regulator hopes to enforce a formal data separation between Meta’s VR products and its other social services in the near future.

But it seems to have been able to extract a temporary split, according to the comment it made today.

The story behind here is that FCO has a challenge to Meta’s so-called user ‘metamorphs’whereby the company aggregates usage data across different services and associates that data with a unique user ID to add more granular profiles for ad targeting purposes — a model a business that relies on privacy-hostile surveillance that the German competition regulator considers abusive and has sought to block since. early 2019.

Meta has challenged the FCO’s order, which suspended enforcement during the appeals process — and is currently awaiting a ruling by the European Union’s top court, which could take effect next year, unblock the order or cancel it.

The Bundeskartellamt of Today’s press release notes that the extent to which “such data processing is permitted” is a “subject of direct discussion” between it and Meta, including the outcome of said legal proceedings. The above is pending before the European Court of Justice.

“Until this matter is clarified, Meta, subject to certain exceptions, will keep the data of users with separate Meta accounts created during their use of the split Meta Quest headset. distinct from data collected from other Meta services,” added the FCO.

Germany’s competition watchdog opened its own investigation into Meta’s plans to link Facebook accounts to Oculus (the name of the company and its VR business at the time) in 2016. . December 2020 — said it was concerned that linking access to virtual reality products to its social network could constitute an abuse of prohibited dominance.

It seems no coincidence that Meta’s decision to reverse course and launch separate accounts for their VR users comes a few months after the FCO completed another validation process. Tech giants are subject to a special competitive abuse control regime, triggered by a 2021 update to German law — meaning Meta faces tighter antitrust scrutiny by the FCO over the next five years. (Meta has not appealed the designation.)

Regarding VR, the FCO writes that Meta “expressed an interest in a friendly resolution of the Facebook/Oculus issue” — before continuing, in late August 2022, to introduce the Meta account — the account. This indicates that “allows users to use Quest 2 and Quest Pro headsets without a Facebook or Instagram account”.

“The Bundeskartellamt clearly states that during headset setup, users will be allowed to decide as freely and uninfluenced as possible whether to use the headset alone or in combination with other Meta services,” FCO went on to note, implying that it was pressuring Meta to tweak its recommendations to remove manipulative push-ups.

After corresponding adjustments, especially for user dialogues, the Quest 2 and Quest Pro headsets are also expected to be available in Germany soon,” it added.

A European Union-wide competition reform, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), would come into force across the bloc next year — while also placing immediate obligations on the most powerful ‘gatekeepers’ Internet giants, with Meta, a likely candidate to be designated as operating core platform services under DMA, and subject to additional restrictions on how this service operates, intended to promote competition and fairness. So the operating noose for Meta’s empire continued to tighten in Europe.

Commenting in a statement today, the president of the FCO, Andreas Mundt, wrote:

“The digital ecosystem created by Meta with its huge user base makes the company a major player in the social network. Meta is also an important player in the growing VR market. Competition in these two areas could be severely hampered if only Facebook or Instagram members can use VR headsets. Meta has responded to our concerns and has offered to offer Quest glasses users the option to create their own Meta accounts as a solution to the problem. While we welcome this development, we will not end the proceedings today. We will now continue to monitor the actual design of user preferences as well as issues related to the combination and handling of user data from various Meta services. This case shows that Section 19a of the German Competition Act (GWB), the new tool for more effective monitoring of large digital companies, allows us to effectively deal with real-world competition problems. .”

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