EU and U.K. Open Antitrust Probes Into Facebook -- Update
By Sam Schechner
The European Union and the U.K. opened formal antitrust
investigations into Facebook Inc.'s classified-ads service
Marketplace, ramping up regulatory scrutiny for the company in
Both the European Commission -- the EU's top antitrust enforcer
-- and the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority said Friday
they are investigating whether Facebook repurposes data it gathers
from advertisers who buy ads in order to give illegal advantages to
its own services, including its Marketplace online flea market.
The U.K. added that it is also investigating whether Facebook
uses advertiser data to give similar advantages to its
online-dating service. The two competition watchdogs said they
would coordinate their investigations.
"In today's digital economy, data should not be used in ways
that distort competition," said Margrethe Vestager, the EU's
A Facebook spokesman said its Marketplace and Dating services
"operate in a highly competitive environment with many large
incumbents. We will continue to cooperate fully with the
investigations to demonstrate that they are without merit."
The opening of a case is a key procedural step in European
competition probes, though the EU has long been informally
investigating Facebook. If the Commission or the U.K.'s CMA finds
evidence of wrongdoing, they can then file formal charges -- but if
not, they say they could also drop their cases.
Separately on Friday, Germany's competition regulator announced
that it is opening an investigation into Google's News Showcase, in
which the tech company pays to license certain content from news
publishers. That probe, which is based on new powers Germany had
granted the regulator, will look among other things at whether
Google is imposing unfair conditions on publishers and how it
selects participants, the Federal Cartel Office said.
Google spokesman Kay Oberbeck said that Google's selection of
participants in News Showcase "is based on objective and
nondiscriminatory criteria, and partner content is not given
preference in the ranking of our results," and that Google will
cooperate with the investigation.
The three newly opened cases are part of a new wave of antitrust
enforcement in Europe. The European Commission filed formal charges
last month against Apple Inc. for allegedly abusing its control
over the distribution of music-streaming apps, including Spotify
Technology SA. In November, it filed formal charges against
Amazon.com Inc. for allegedly using nonpublic data it gathers from
third-party sellers to unfairly compete against them. Both
companies denied wrongdoing.
At the same time, the U.K.'s CMA has opened investigations into
Google's announcement that it will retire third-party cookies, a
technology advertisers use to track web users, and whether Apple
imposes anticompetitive conditions on some app developers,
including the use of Apple's in-app payment system, which is also
the subject of a lawsuit in the U.S.
In the EU, the European Commission has been investigating
Facebook for more than a year on multiple fronts. Facebook and the
Commission have squabbled over access to internal documents as part
of those investigations.
Friday's cases look specifically at how Facebook uses the data
it has gathered from advertisers, and whether that could confer an
advantage to Facebook's promotion of its own services in
For instance, the EU says its preliminary investigations have
raised concerns that Facebook could glean "precise information on
users' preferences from its competitors' advertisement activities
and use such data in order to adapt Facebook Marketplace."
Write to Sam Schechner at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 04, 2021 06:44 ET (10:44 GMT)
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