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A protester with "Raging Grannies" holds a sign

A protester with the group "Raging Grannies" holds a sign during a demonstration outside of Facebook headquarters on April 5, 2018 in Menlo Park, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

European Regulators Announce Antitrust Probes Into Facebook's Ad Data Collection

Facebook "collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond, enabling it to target specific customer groups," said the European Commission's executive vice president for competition.

Andrea Germanos

European regulators on Friday announced two separate antitrust investigations into Facebook regarding its use of advertising data.

The probes, one from the European Commission and the other from the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), come amid sustained scrutiny over the breadth and impact of the social media giant's data collection practices.

European Commission regulators will focus on Facebook's "advertising data gathered in particular from advertisers in order to compete with them in markets where Facebook is active such as classified ads."

Further assessment will be given to "whether Facebook ties its online classified ads service 'Facebook Marketplace' to its social network, in breach of EU competition rules," the commissions said.

CMA's probe will also consider possible unfair advantage Facebook gained from ad data to the benefit of Facebook Marketplace, as well as its dating profile service Facebook Dating.

The authorities said they would "work closely" with each other on the investigations.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission's executive vice president in charge of competition policy, addressed the scope of the social media platform's reach.

 

"Facebook is used by almost 3 billion people on a monthly basis and almost 7 million firms advertise on Facebook in total," she said in a statement. Vestager added that the company "collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond, enabling it to target specific customer groups."

"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," said Vestager, "and where Facebook also competes with companies from which it collects data."

The inquiries add to "the regulatory challenges Facebook is facing around the world," as the New York Times noted, pointing to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit in December targeting the company's anti-competitive practices, as well as charges from German and Australian regulators.

In March, a global coalition kicked off a campaign to ban "surveillance advertising"—a practice they say is "the core profit-driver for gatekeepers like Facebook and Google" and that is "undermining democracy."

"These dominant firms curate the content each person sees on their platforms using those dossiers," the groups said, "not just the ads, but newsfeeds, recommendations, trends, and so forth—to keep each user hooked, so they can be served more ads and mined for more data."


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