Antitrust investigators from the European Union (EU) have requested internal records from Facebook as its investigation into the tech giant intensifies, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday (Feb. 6), citing sources.
The European Commission has increased its push for information – including internal emails, chat logs and presentations – regarding allegations that Facebook exploited access to users’ data as a way to suppress competitors, per the report. Investigators are also looking into software changes Facebook initiated that enabled app developers to connect to data.
Facebook’s 2013 Onavo acquisition is also being probed. Onavo – now shuttered – was an Israeli virtual-private-network (VPN) app that allowed Facebook to access its users’ data, which revealed the use of rival apps. This information gave Facebook insider information about its competitors.
The social media giant said it used the app as one of its market intelligence tools and that it notified users of all data collection activities.
The interest in Facebook’s management of user data access is a new angle on the EU’s preliminary probe.
According to an EU law, Facebook can be fined daily if it fails to comply with investigators’ requests for records, per sources familiar with the matter.
“We are committed to cooperating with regulators on inquiries about the competitive landscape in which we operate,” a Facebook spokesperson told the WSJ, answering via Associate General Counsel Timothy Lamb.
The deepened investigation comes ahead of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s planned trip to Brussels to meet with EU Competition Chief Margrethe Vestager, according to sources.
If the investigation goes against Facebook, the EU could mandate a change of business practices and issue fines of up to 10 percent of global annual revenue. Based on Facebook’s 2019 revenue, those fines could exceed $7 billion.
The EU’s Court of Justice ruled in October that member state judges can order Facebook and other social media sites to find and remove any illegal content. The ruling stemmed from a case brought by a former politician in the Green Party bloc in Austria, who wanted a defamatory comment and its reposts removed.