E-mails more ammo for EU

Face­book un­der scru­tiny

The Province - - NEWS - AOIFE WHITE

Face­book e-mails show­ing the com­pany threat­ened to cut off data to po­ten­tial ri­vals added a new tar­get for the reg­u­la­tory ar­mory be­ing amassed by Euro­pean reg­u­la­tors.

The pub­li­ca­tion of the e-mails by U.K law­mak­ers pre­ceded a vote by EU leg­is­la­tors Thurs­day that backed draft rules re­quir­ing on­line plat­forms to treat busi­nesses — in­clud­ing ri­vals — fairly.

In the new year Ger­many, will con­clude an an­titrust probe that may call on Face­book to change pri­vacy terms. Euro­pean pri­vacy reg­u­la­tors are also armed with the power to fine for breaches fol­low­ing the roll­out of the EU’s Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion in May.

“Face­book is now on no­tice that we can­not con­tinue to un­der­mine the trust cit­i­zens place not only in our on­line plat­forms, but our democ­racy it­self,” said Claude Mo­raes, a Bri­tish mem­ber of the Euro­pean par­lia­ment who quizzed Face­book chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg at a June hear­ing.

“A big stick is avail­able to the EU in the form of com­pe­ti­tion and tax­a­tion pow­ers.”

A trove of in­ter­nal cor­re­spon­dence, pub­lished on­line Wed­nes­day, pro­vided a look into the ways Face­book ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing Zucker­berg, treated in­for­ma­tion posted by users like a com­mod­ity.

Apps were in­vited to use Face­book’s net­work to grow, as long as that in­creased us­age of Face­book. Cer­tain com­peti­tors, in a list re­viewed by Zucker­berg him­self, were not al­lowed to use Face­book’s tools and data with­out his per­sonal sign-off.

The mes­sage may in­crease scru­tiny around whether Face­book is a mo­nop­oly — one of the so­cial net­work’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal risks.

Damien Geradin, a Brus­sels-based lawyer at Eu­clid Law, said the re­fusal of ac­cess to Vine data could be seen as a po­ten­tial re­fusal to deal with ri­vals. He said Face­book would need to be shown as es­sen­tial to users, and it’s “not clear it is.”

Tim Wu, a pro­fes­sor at Columbia Law School, said the e-mails “sug­gest ex­clu­sion­ary con­duct” against Vine and “clearly add to the case that the ac­qui­si­tion of What­sApp was il­le­gal,” ac­cord­ing to a Twit­ter post.

New leg­is­la­tion might re­quire In­ter­net giants to treat ri­val ser­vices “equally with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion” with some ex­cep­tions, ac­cord­ing to rules voted by EU law­mak­ers on Thurs­day.

Their ver­sion still needs to be backed by the full Euro­pean par­lia­ment, likely next week, and then the fi­nal text of the law must be ne­go­ti­ated with EU gov­ern­ments. Ger­many al­ready sees Face­book as the coun­try’s dom­i­nant so­cial net­work, which puts the com­pany on warn­ing.

The way In­ter­net giants wield user data — and their abil­ity to crush ri­vals by cut­ting off links to it — is in­creas­ingly a fo­cus for Euro­pean reg­u­la­tors. Both the EU and Ger­many are look­ing at how Ama­zon. com Inc. treats sell­ers on its plat­form, with the EU ze­ro­ing in on the ad­van­tage it gets on ri­vals’ best­selling items if it starts sell­ing its own­brand copy­cats.

Mi­crosoft and Ap­ple were scru­ti­nized over how they might choke off ri­vals’ ac­cess in EU probes of their takeover plans. Face­book es­caped a long probe from the EU over the deal but was later fined €110 mil­lion ($167.5 mil­lion) for fail­ing to dis­close how it could link data be­tween ser­vices.

Pri­vacy of­fi­cials are also show­ing im­pa­tience with Face­book, with Bri­tish in­for­ma­tion com­mis­sioner El­iz­a­beth Den­ham telling the U.K. Par­lia­ment the com­pany needs to sig­nif­i­cantly change its busi­ness model and prac­tices.


E-mails pub­lished by U.K. law­mak­ers Wed­nes­day showed how Face­book bosses in­clud­ing Mark Zucker­berg have treated user data.


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