Die Facebook-Entscheidung des BGH enthält wichtige Aussagen zum Ausbeutungsmissbrauch, zu den Anforderungen an die Kausalität beim Ausbeutungsmissbrauch und zum Behinderungsmissbrauch, denen erhebliche Bedeutung weit über den Fall hinaus zukommen wird. Zudem betrifft die Entscheidung die im Fokus von Gesetzgebern und Wettbewerbsbehörden stehenden digitalen Märkte mit ihrer massenhaften Verarbeitung und Nutzung personenbezogener Daten. Indem der BGH seine Entscheidung – anders als das Bundeskartellamt – nicht auf datenschutzrechtliche Erwägungen stützt, sondern auf eine aufgedrängte, entgeltliche Leistungserweiterung zieht er ein originär kartellrechtliches Konzept heran. Und indem der BGH – anders als das OLG Düsseldorf – von einer wettbewerblichen Dimension des Falls ausgeht und hierauf stützend die Entscheidung des Bundeskartellamts im Ergebnis aufrechterhält, zeigt er, dass das Kartellrecht datengetriebenen Geschäftsmodellen Grenzen setzt.
The Facebook Decision of the German Federal Court of Justice – a Compass for the Control of Abusive Behaviour?
The decision of the German Federal Court of Justice (“BGH”) in the interim relief proceedings of Facebook against the prohibition decision of the Federal Cartel Office (“Bundeskartellamt”) is a milestone regarding the interpretation of the law on an abuse of a dominant market position. This article focusses on the findings of the BGH regarding an exploitative abuse, the causal link between market dominance and an exploitative abusive behaviour, an exclusionary abuse of a dominant position as well as the corresponding balancing of interests. It compares the findings of the BGH with the findings of the Bundeskartellamt’s decision and the decision of the Higher Regional Court Düsseldorf (“OLG Düsseldorf”) as the previous instance in the interim relief proceedings.
The Bundeskartellamt decided that Facebook abused its dominant position on the national market for social networks. The reason was that Facebook made the use of its social network conditional on the collection of user data from other Facebook services (e. g. Instagram and WhatsApp) as well as third parties’ websites and apps (“Off-Facebook-Data”) and the merging of this data with the data collected on Facebook’s social network (“On-Facebook-Data”). The Bundeskartellamt argued that this behaviour infringed the General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679 (“GDPR”). In the view of the Bundeskartellamt, this infringement of the GDPR also constituted an exploitative abuse of a dominant market position. In addition, the Bundeskartellamt regarded Facebook’s behaviour as an exclusionary abuse towards Facebook’s (potential) competitors.
The OLG Düsseldorf clearly rejected this view. The court stated that the alleged users’ harm would not constitute a competitive harm. In addition, the Bundeskartellamt had not shown that only Facebook`s dominant position enabled it to demand the Off-Facebook-Data from the customers (no causal link). Last, the court was of the opinion that the Bundeskartellamt had not proven an exclusionary abuse by Facebook either.
As opposed to the Bundeskartellamt, the BGH does not assess whether an alleged infringement of the GDPR can amount to an exploitative abuse of a dominant position by Facebook on the national market for social networks. It rather distinguishes between the current version of Facebook’s social network as a “full version” and a hypothetical “light version”. While the “full version” is based on On-Facebook-Data and Off-Facebook-Data, the “light version” is solely based on On-Facebook-Data.
Since users cannot choose between the full version and the light version, the users who would prefer a light version suffer damages. They have to provide additional personal data to Facebook for a full version of the social network they do not need. The BGH calls this an “involuntary extension of the service” (aufgedrängte Leistungserweiterung). In this context, the court clarifies that the users’ data can have an economic value, at least in cases where the recipient monetizes the data on the other side of the multi-sided market (i. e towards the advertising customers – the advertising side of the market). One can thus regard the provision of data as a payment. The theory of harm applied by the BGH corresponds to the theory of harm in so-called tying cases.
However, the BGH states that such an involuntary extension of the service in itself is not sufficient to constitute an exploitative abuse. Insofar agreeing with the OLG Düsseldorf, it requires in addition a causal link between the dominant position and the exploitative abusive behaviour.
The degree of causality in cases of exploitative abuse is disputed. The Bundeskartellamt as well as the explanatory memorandum of the 10thAmendment to the German Act against Restraints of Competition consider a so-called “causality as to the effect” (“Ergebniskausalität”) sufficient. This means that it is not necessary that the dominant position has enabled the dominant undertaking to engage in the exploitative abuse. It rather suffices that the effects of the behaviour are particularly harmful to competition, because it is a dominant undertaking in a market already lacking competition that engages in the respective behaviour.
The OLG Düsseldorf, to the contrary, requires a so-called “causal link as to the behavior” (“Verhaltenskausalität”). This means that only the dominant position must have enabled the undertaking to engage in the respective behaviour.
The BGH chooses a third way. If the behaviour constitutes at the same time an exclusionary abuse, in particular on a multi-sided market towards competitors on the other market side (the advertising side), a lesser degree of causality than the Verhaltenskausalität shall be sufficient. The BGH applies a “mitigated causality as to the behaviour to be expected in the market” (“abgeschwächte Marktverhaltenskausalität”). This means that one could expect a different market result (i. e. the offer of a Facebook light version relying on On-Facebook-Data only) in a hypothetical competitive market.
While the OLG Düsseldorf in applying Verhaltenskausalität denied a causal link, the BGH with its abgeschwächte Marktverhaltenskausalität assumes a causal link between Facebook’s dominant position on the market for social networks and the exploitative abuse. The BGH is of the opinion that due to an existing demand, there would probably be an offer of a Facebook light version on a market with effective competition.
According to the BGH, abgeschwächte Marktverhaltenskausalität suffices at least in cases where the exploitative abuse also fulfils the conditions of an exclusionary abuse. As opposed to the OLG Düsseldorf, the BGH is of the opinion that it is sufficient for an exclusionary abuse that a behaviour is able to impede competition. There must be no actual impediment of competitors.
Against this background, the BGH assumes an exclusionary abuse on the market for social networks due to the competitive advantage Facebook gains by collecting Off-Facebook-Data and combining it with the Facebook account and the On-Facebook-Data. This would enable Facebook to improve its services as a social network provider towards the users and its advertising services towards the advertising customers. Further, the BGH states that it cannot exclude an exclusionary abuse on the online advertising markets for these reasons either.
Last, the finding of an abuse in German competition law requires a comprehensive balancing of the interests of the stakeholders involved thereby taking into account the freedom of competition as the goal of the Act against Restraints of Competition. The BGH balances business, competition and data protection interests taking into consideration fundamental rights, in particular the right of information self-determination of the Facebook users. It even assumes that – due to its social and economic power – Facebook as a private company is (almost as) bound by fundamental rights as the State is. The court comes to the conclusion that the users’ interests in freedom of choice and data protection outweigh Facebook’s business and other interests.
As a result, the BGH assumes that Facebook’s behaviour is both an exploitative and an exclusionary abuse of a dominant position.
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