Did you ever wondered why you often see ads on Facebook for products you’ve been looking for on the web just before? This is made possible by so-called trackers, which are integrated in websites and monitor your browsing behavior. Facebook’s trackers are present on 27.1 percent of all websites in order to learn as much as possible about your interests and to use this information for advertising purposes. Only Google’s tracker reach, with a share of 60.3 percent, is even greater according to an international study conducted by Cliqz and Ghostery called “Tracking the Trackers: Analyzing the global tracking landscape with GhostRank.” More than 144 million page loads were examined during the analysis.
Since 2016, the Bundeskartellamt is investigating whether Facebook has a dominant position in Germany and whether it is abusing this position as a “data-driven company.” Now, the regulator has informed the company in writing of its preliminary legal assessment in the abuse of dominance proceeding. Based on the current stage of the proceedings, the authority assumes that Facebook is dominant on the German market for social networks. The authority holds the view that Facebook is abusing this dominant position by making the use of its social network conditional on its being allowed to limitlessly amass every kind of data generated by using third-party websites and merge it with the user’s Facebook account. These third-party sites include firstly services owned by Facebook such as WhatsApp or Instagram, and secondly websites and apps of other operators with embedded Facebook APIs. Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt, explains:
We are mostly concerned about the collection of data outside Facebook’s social network and the merging of this data into a user’s Facebook account. Via APIs, data are transmitted to Facebook and are collected and processed by Facebook even when a Facebook user visits other websites. This even happens when, for example, a user does not press a “like button” but has called up a site into which such a button is embedded. Users are unaware of this. And from the current state of affairs we are not convinced that users have given their effective consent to Facebook’s data tracking and the merging of data into their Facebook account. The extent and form of data collection violate mandatory European data protection principles.
Terms of service partly violate data protection regulations
According to the authority’s preliminary assessment, when operating this business model Facebook, as a dominant company, must consider that its users cannot switch to other social networks. Participation in Facebook’s network is conditional on registration and unrestricted approval of its terms of service. Users are given the choice of either accepting the “whole package” or doing without the service. According to the Bundeskartellamt’s preliminary assessment, Facebook’s terms of service are at least in this aspect inappropriate and violate data protection provisions to the disadvantage of its users.
Facebook rejects allegations of a dominant position. In a statement titled “Popularity Does Not Equal Dominance” Yvonne Cunnane, Head of Data Protection for Facebook Ireland, wrote: “Bundeskartellamt’s preliminary report paints an inaccurate picture of Facebook.” A dominant company operates in a world where customers don’t have alternatives. Taking a look at the average smartphone home screen shows that Facebook does not have a dominant position in the market, Cunnane says. The average person now uses seven different social communication apps or services like Snapchat, YouTube or Twitter. The services cited by Cunnane had, however, been excluded by the Bundeskartellamt in the abuse proceedings, because they serve a complementary need.
“Facebook has huge amounts of personalised data at its disposal”
In this proceeding the Bundeskartellamt focuses on the collection and use of user data from third party sources. The proceeding does not concern the collection and use of data on the Facebook network itself. The authority leaves explicitly open whether this also constitutes a violation of data protection provisions and the abuse of a dominant position.
The Bundeskartellamt is closely cooperating with data protection authorities as regards the data protection aspects of the case. Andreas Mundt: “Data protection, consumer protection and the protection of competition interlink where data, as in Facebook’s case, are a crucial factor for the economic dominance of a company. On the one hand the social network offers a free service, on the other it offers attractive advertising space, which is so valuable because Facebook has huge amounts of personalised data at its disposal. In these entrepreneurial activities Facebook has to comply with rules and laws.”
Final decision not before mid-2018
Regarding data collection, Facebook’s data protection manager refers to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into effect in May 2018. The company “will of course comply with the GDPR” and will be introducing “additional controls”. Facebook also wants to provide “more education about how we protect people’s data and security”. According to Cunnane, Facebook is confident that they will be able to address the questions posed by Bundeskartellamt.
Facebook now has the chance to comment on the allegations and provide justification for its conduct or offer possible solutions. Possible outcomes of the administrative proceeding are the termination of the case, the offer of commitments by the company or a prohibition by the competition authority. A final decision on the matter is not expected before early summer 2018.
In the universe without borders known as cyberspace, national data protection laws and regulation will never be able to form an invincible shield from the omnipresent trackers. For this reason, Internet users who want to protect their privacy have to take matters into their own hands. One simple and efficient step they can take is to use anti-tracking tools like Ghostery. Tracking protection is also part of the Cliqz Browser. Ghostery is available for free download as an extension for all common browsers. The free Cliqz Browser is available for Windows and macOS as well as Android and iOS.
On a lump in the throat, white roses, champagne, pain, ups and downs and government awards
- And what was it that made it so special? After so many years you’ve spent on stage.
- Everything was different. As if for the first time. The illness and everything it entailed gave me more experience. I’d never felt anything like this. A very different kind of feeling. When I emerged from behind the scenes in the limelight and saw people’s faces, I felt my blood was literally boiling. It took quite an effort to regain self-control, calm down and swallow the lump that stood in my throat.
Then it happened again on September 25, at the opening of a new season at Met, where I made my first appearance after the break for medical treatment. I knew perfectly well that the audience will explode with an ovation the moment I would appear on stage. I was almost sure that the conductor would pause the performance for a moment to let the spectators express their feelings. It was essential to get through these minutes, not to lose breath, to hold back tears and not to collapse on the floor right there. I am not exaggerating. It was a tremendous psychological test. And the most complex one. Not the global process of resuming my professional career, but the very first step. The role of Count di Luna in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore is considered one of the most difficult ones among the baritones, but I love it. As the plot unfolds, my character does a lot of fencing fights. My current condition as it is, there was surely an extra reason for being worried, but, as I’ve already told you, my greatest concern was not about that, but about the moment I was to begin the first monologue. As I walked there, I kept saying to myself: “Hold on! Hold on!” So it happened. I stayed firm.
- Did you take a deep breath?
- I used all tricks available to me at that point. I was smiling, looking around, trying to see familiar faces in the audience. I was ready to do anything just for the sake of not letting the heart jump, which would’ve left me unprotected before an applauding audience. I had to switch attention to something else, to get distracted from the way I felt deep inside.
- And when white roses started falling at your feet towards the finale?
- That was another terrible blow! Whereas before the beginning I had prepared myself psychologically, that flower shower caught me off guard. The day before there was a dress rehearsal open to the general public, and I knew in advance that an ovation at the end would be imminent, but I had not anticipated to see so many roses.
We lined up for the final bow. The conductor – Marco Armiliato – suddenly grabbed me by the hand and pushed forward. At first I was in confusion. It’s against the custom. And then I saw flowers flying towards me from the orchestra pit. Many flowers! Very many! I did not know what to do. I looked back towards my partners. Anna Netrbeko, Marco Armiliato and others were applauding… and weeping. I am not a man of iron, either! I bent down and started picking up the roses lying in front of me with trembling hands, while many more flowers kept pouring in! Long and very thorny… Then I turned and handed the ones I’d just picked up to the ladies on stage.
Believe me, such a token of recognition from the Met orchestra is hard to over-appreciate. The atmosphere in the theater is just wonderful, really amazing! Probably there’s nothing of the kind elsewhere in the world. That I’m personally acquainted almost with every single stagehand leaves a special imprint on relations, too. They are sturdy, robust guys from Bronx and Brooklyn, with a very special accent… I’ve been long acquainted with people from the theater’s other services and units, including the sewing shop, the make-up specialists and the management.
- When was your debut at Metropolitan Opera?
- Precisely twenty years ago. I marked the date in October. Now imagine – each time we meet we discuss different themes. Some people come and other people go, but the special spirit of Met is invariably there. I’ve always felt that, but in September the feeling was most acute. The wave of positive emotions coming from the orchestra, the choir and the partners overpowered me.
- A question I’ve never asked you before: do you keep a diary?
- I’ve never done that. You will probably feel surprised, but it was just recently, during my illness that some people started persuading me to start making notes. You don’t have much to do for now, I was told, so sum up your thoughts, look back on what you’ve been through. I tried, honestly, but nothing has come of this idea of writing memoirs. I failed to persuade myself.
After each radiotherapy session I remained exhausted for several hours. I had no strength, no emotions, and no wishes. I just sat in an armchair, feeling half-dead. Toward 6 p.m. I usually got better. Then I had a glass of champagne and literally resurrected, as if I was borne anew.
- Were you allowed to have champagne?
-The wine saved me! Each day I popped a cork. This helped me to cheer up and feel invigorated. We were having guests all the time. Some stayed for days: the house is big enough to accommodate all. I didn’t have to stay in hospital round the clock. I went there for treatment in the morning and then got back home. For the first time in many years I spent three months in a row with my family. It was something extraordinary.
Wasting precious time on writing memoirs? No, I hated the idea of losing even an hour. Besides, my physical condition then left much to be desired. After having radiation therapy you begin to think life isn’t worth living.
- Now that you’ve been on the brink of an abyss, have you changed you attitude to what you have in this world?
- You know, I don’t feel yet the illness has left me. I still feel dizzy. Sometimes probably even more dizzy than before.
- My sleepless nights are to blame. While lying in bed I may be staring into the darkness, unable to control racing thoughts… I might agree that too little time has passed. I really don’t know… The human body has a very special feature. The moment you feel better just for a second and the pain dies down, the hope comes back. The picture of the world changes instantly, and so do your thoughts, plans and mood. But when the pain returns, everything around turns black again. Ups and downs follow each other in an instant. It’s really hard to bear. You soon get tired of this never-ending rollercoaster ride.
- This possibly adds a lot to the urge to brush aside matters of no importance and not waste life on worthless nonsense?
- Now I see your point… No, the illness has not taught me anything new in this respect, and it couldn’t have. I’ve long lived with the feeling each tiny moment is precious. True, there may be mistakes and wrong moves, but they yield experience in exchange. Experience has to be paid for. But then it’s not something worthless. As for the lessons I’ve derived from the past six months I can say that I’ve restricted my contacts with the outside world still more. I’ve curtailed practically all redundant contacts and abandoned everything that I can do without. Possibly, I was too emotional and shouldn’t have done that. For now I prefer to have it this way.
Also, I’ve noticed that I am more tolerant towards other people. Before, I was far harsher in my comments and judgements. This change may be a result of not my ailment, though, but of my age. With time you come to understand more things about life in general.
- When last June you declared you were pausing your artistic career did you have an idea of how long the interruption might last?
- Doctors have mentioned to me the date of the last radiotherapy session. As I’ve already said, radiotherapy is the worst hindrance. Firstly, it is harmful for your health. Secondly, you stay pegged to a clinic. And chemotherapy will last till February. No drop counters, though. I will be taking pills. In a word, nothing prevents me from travelling around the world. It remains to be seen whether my physical condition allows me to perform on stage. So I had decided that I should go to New York in September to sing at Metropolitan Opera. So I did as I said. It goes without saying that it was a great victory. I haven’t realized its importance to the full yet. You see, Metropolitan Opera implies a certain level and a challenge. Professional, emotional and physical... I threw that challenge to myself. It this particular case it did not matter whether I would appear on stage as Count Di Luna or just sing a couple of simple notes. It was a matter of principle.
A few words about Il Trovatore. It is practically impossible to sing it correctly. All characters are crazy. And the way the opera is composed is not very convenient for vocalists. The way Anna Netrebko coped with Leonora’s role is just fabulous. Ann is a wonderful performer and a really powerful singer. Over the past twenty years she’s made colossal progress. I remember well her repertoire of those days, and I can see what Ann sings today. Her voice has changed. It now sounds deeper, clearer and stronger.
When we performed at Met on October 3, the performance was telecast to two thousand cinema theaters in seventy countries around the world, including Russia. My parents were in Moscow and enjoyed Il Trovatore on a large screen. That thought made me still more exited.
In those days I felt never-waning support. Each walk along a New York Street was quite an experience. I had a rented apartment one block away from Met. Usually it’s a two-minute slow stroll. I had to spend far more time to get there, and back, though. Many passers-by who recognized me were stopping me to wish good health and ask how I was doing. And chats with fellow Russians lasted much longer…
- In London it’s all the same, I guess?
- I take far less strolls there. Prefer to move around in a hired car. I seldom use the telephone and prefer not to answer telephone calls.
True, I have a certain group of acquaintances in Britain I socialize with. Covent Garden is another theatrical family of mine. Apart from Met. My British colleagues last summer sent me a large album with autographs, photos and kind wishes from the theatre’s company and staff, from top manager to usher.
- Were there any messages from Russia?
Of course, there were! Oddly enough some of the letters reached me even though they carried no proper address. I keep my home address secret from the public. Nobody knows where we live. Why disclosing such private information?
Incidentally, this time after recitals in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ufa some spectators brought me not just flowers, but also jars with potions and balms promising cure from all disease, brochures, paintings and icons…
- What was your reaction to the news Russia has decorated you with the Order of Alexandr Nevsky?
- I do hope that my health problems have nothing to do with it. I’m joking, of course. Back in 1991 I received Russia’s state award from Boris Yeltsin. So did Mstislav Rostropovich. I was even asked to say a couple of words on behalf of the laureates. I was so excited that I mumbled something incomprehensible. I only remember that Yeltsin then was in good shape, handsome-looking and brimming with energy… And in 1995 I was awarded the title of People’s Artist of Russia. That was twenty years ago. My parents then kept asking: “What for?” What could I tell them then? Now I have the full right to say: “That’s what it was for!” Surely, I am very grateful to the state for the order, but it is no less important that I enjoy people’s ever-lasting love. That’s what really matters. I’m not being pathetic. I do see the world this way.
- You surely chanced to meet with the powers that be many a time, did you?
- I’ve never sought their friendship or favors. I never had such aims. They have their own important duties of national importance to attend, while I have my own corner of the world. I don’t need anything from the authorities. Absolutely. I don’t run a large orchestra or theater company. Nor do I seek budget subsidies or grants. What’s the best way of saying it? I am self-employed. I work on my own. I am not on the staff of any performing company. I belong to myself. Is it what some would call independence?
True, I’ve performed in front of heads of state and monarchs. In the early 1990s I was introduced to Princess Diana. I was performing at Spenser House for members of Britain’s high society. After the concert there was a reception, a banquet and a dancing party… That was 20 years ago. What’s the use of recalling all this…
- Then let’s talk about the more recent affairs. This year you were awarded the title of an honorary citizen of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, weren’t you?
- Yes, that’s what some people would call “my small motherland.” I had different kinds of relations with the local authorities in different years, but one must never have grudges against one’s mother country or one’s mother. That’s a rule of life.
I feel I should visit Krasnoyarsk more often. Last time I was there in spring. If I’m not mistaken, I performed there last time on May 27 before my illness. My whole family was there. It was a great experience. My cousin took us on a city tour and gave us a ride to the Rock Pillars of Krasnoyarsk natural reserve. The kids were screaming with delight! My dear mother-in-law, too, went everywhere to see everything. She is an Italian living in Geneva. For many years I kept persuading her that Siberia had its own charm and beauty in no way inferior to Switzerland. Jones condescendingly listened to my fiery speeches, possibly smiling quietly to herself. But when she arrived in Krasnoyarsk, she was able to see that what I had been telling her was pretty close to the truth. She liked it all very much.
I have an excellent relationship with my mother-in-law. Jones is a good companion. I like travelling with her. Of the six weeks I was undergoing radiotherapy Jones spent four with me, cooking and taking care of me… And do you know what happened to her just recently? On October 3 she was watching Il Trovatore telecast from New York. Afterwards, when she was walking out of the hall, she stumbled on the stairway and had her leg broken. A twist of fortune. Now she’ll have to stay in hospital till January, because moving about the house in a wheelchair is a problem. Now it’s my turn to take care of my in-law. The bad news arrived when Flo and I were already on the way to Geneva…