EU opens antitrust probe into Facebook

Regulators will investigate whether it breached rules through its use of rivals' data.

Leah Millis / Reuters

As expected, EU regulators have launched an antitrust probe into Facebook's use of classified advertising. Regulators will seek to establish whether the social media company broke competition rules by using data collected from advertisers to compete with them in classified ads. Officials will also assess if Facebook ties its Craigslist-style Marketplace to its main platform in breach of EU rules, the European Commission said in its announcement.

Data has become a major battleground for European regulators, who are seeking to break down information silos across industries by encouraging data sharing in the spaces of healthcare, agriculture and energy. The initiative formed a central part of the EU’s Data Strategy which the European Commission unveiled in February of last year.

The focus on data troves has also seen regulators clash with other Big Tech companies. For instance, Google's access to sensitive health information was a major sticking point in the EU's investigation into its Fitbit acquisition last year — a deal that was eventually cleared in December after a prolonged probe. Like the newly-opened Facebook case, Amazon is also being investigated by EU regulators over its alleged use of third-party seller data to boost its own products.

Margrethe Vestager, who has taken on Big Tech during her reign as the EC's head of competition, warned that "data should not be used in ways that distort competition." In a statement, she said: “Facebook is used by almost 3 billion people on a monthly basis and almost 7 million firms advertise on Facebook in total ... We will look in detail at whether this data gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage in particular on the online classified ads sector, where people buy and sell goods every day, and where Facebook also competes with companies from which it collects data."

For its part, Facebook told Bloomberg that it would "cooperate fully with the investigations to demonstrate that they are without merits." The social network is also locked in an ongoing antitrust probe in Germany, while the EU said it is cooperating with the UK competition authority's investigation into Facebook's use of data.

The regulator, known as the Competition and Markets Authority, said today that it is scrutinizing Facebook's online ad services and its single sign-on feature — which allows users to log in to third-party apps and platforms using their Facebook credentials — to determine if they give it an advantage over rivals.