Facebook Inc. is the latest big tech target of the European Union as regulators opened a formal investigation into its classified advertising service.
The European Commission will probe whether the social network violated competition rules by using data gathered from advertisers to compete against them in classified ads, it said in an emailed statement Friday. It will also check if the company unfairly ties its Facebook Marketplace small ad service to the social network.
It is the first time the EU’s powerful antitrust arm has escalated a case into Facebook’s behavior beyond the preliminary stages, adding the company to the likes of Google, Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. The EU previously fined the company for failing to provide correct information in the merger review of the WhatsApp takeover.
“Facebook collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition chief, said.
Regulators “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,” she said.
The case opens up yet another front for the world’s biggest tech firms to fight on, as regulators investigate their market dominance. The increasingly active German Cartel Office is investigating Facebook, Google and Amazon. While in France regulators are bringing several probes to a close.
Vestager’s team at the European Commission has been investigating Facebook since 2019. Facebook sought to curb the EU’s probe with lawsuits last year to limit what information officials could scoop up.
The EU probe mirrors its investigation into Amazon by looking at how a so-called digital platform may use data it gathers from companies that use its service to compete against them.
Facebook “will continue to cooperate fully with the investigations to demonstrate that they are without merit,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We are always developing new and better services to meet evolving demand from people who use Facebook.”
The U.K.’s antitrust regulator also opened its own probe into Facebook data. The Competition and Markets Authority said it planned to investigate whether Facebook abused its dominant position by collecting data from services including its single sign-on option.
The increasingly tech-focused CMA is running an independent investigation, but said it will cooperate with the commission’s probe. The CMA said its initial investigation including information gathering will run until Feb.
Opening a formal probe means regulators can start building firm evidence of antitrust violations, a process that can lead to a charge sheet, or statement of objections, and may eventually culminate in fines or an order to change the way a business operates.
Facebook was one of the few tech giants to escape formal investigation. The EU has fined Google more than $9 billion euros in a trio of probes it ended two years ago. It recently escalated investigations into Amazon and Apple
— With assistance by Jonathan Browning
(Updates with details of the probes throughout)