Facebook scrutiny narrows in on data, classified ads in new wave of EU questions
18 October 2019, by Natalie McNelis, Nicholas Hirst and Lewis Crofts
Facebook’s access to data through interfaces such as Login and Social Plugins is in the sights of EU antitrust enforcers in fresh questionnaires probing the impact of the company’s “Marketplace” on classified ad businesses, MLex has learned.
The detailed and lengthy question-sheets are the latest sign that the European Commission is ramping up its inquiry into the owner of Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, amid intensifying scrutiny of Big Tech firms in Europe.
The social-media giant’s ability to gather data from companies that use its platform as well as the functioning of its classified-ad service appear to be the two main areas of focus for antitrust enforcers at this stage.
The commission is also trying to assess the impact on classified ads websites of the rollout of Facebook Marketplace. The responses were due last month, MLex understands.
Marketplace is a Facebook platform designed for buyers and sellers, allowing users to shop for goods such as electronics, clothes or household appliances online. They can refine their searches to home in on particular regions or cities.
EU officials are looking into the agreements between Facebook and users of the Marketplace platform and the data the social network gathers through those relationships.
For instance, the commission is asking for details on companies’ agreements to list their products on Marketplace, how important access to the platform is for users, what data they have to give up as a condition for using the platform, and what Facebook is entitled to do with it.
Similarly, the commission wants to understand what data Facebook gets, and what it can do with it, when websites and apps make use of Facebook's Login and Social plugins.
Facebook Login is a service that allows consumers to simply use their Facebook account to log into a third-party site, without needing to create a new account. Facebook Social Plugins include the “like” and “share” buttons that allow users to share their experiences on other websites with their friends on Facebook.
Officials return again and again to the subject of data, exploring how classified-ad websites employ Facebook’s own advertising service and at what cost, and asking for a description of any agreements involving data-sharing.
The commission also wants to explore the functioning of advertising markets more broadly, assessing their geographic scope as well as the dynamics between classified ads and other forms such as display ads, personal social networks and general search ads.
In that light, the questions seek examples of newcomers to the market or any companies that have left over the past five years.
The regulator also explores whether a possible market for classified ads could be divided according to whether they feature real estate, vehicles or job listings, or run through a website or an app.
The four-dozen questions follow up on information requests issued this summer.