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Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

Meta Platforms’ Facebook has attacked Germany’s competition watchdog for taking an “all-or-nothing approach”, conflating data protection and antitrust law to seek an unprecedented overhaul of the firm’s business model.       

The Federal Cartel Office’s strategy led to a “clearly flawed” decision in 2019 targeting the social media giant’s business practices, lawyers for Meta told the EU’s Court of Justice at a hearing on Tuesday. 

“The Federal Cartel Office, based on its misguided all-or-nothing approach, conducted only an incomplete and skewed data protection assessment,” Hans-Georg Kamann, a lawyer for Meta, told a 15-judge panel in Luxembourg. “A formal competition order has revealed itself to be in substance actually a data protection order.”

The EU court challenge is key to Facebook’s attempts to overturn the 2019 crackdown, which imposed changes to how it tracks users’ web browsing. The EU court’s ruling on the legality of the Germany authority’s move could guide authorities across the region as the EU seeks to bolster oversight of Silicon Valley tech giants.

The case comes as the EU has adopted sweeping new rules aimed at preventing tech “gatekeepers” from abusing their market power.

The case ended up at the EU court after judges in Germany sought guidance on whether a violation of data regulations can be cited in an antitrust case. It’s one of several challenges the tech firm is facing in Europe, including from privacy watchdogs.

Meta on Tuesday accused the watchdog of violating a key EU principle of “sincere co-operation” by failing to include the Data Protection Authority in Ireland, where Meta has its EU base, in its investigations before adopting a final decision.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which took effect in 2018, gave data watchdogs unprecedented fining powers and also made those authorities, where a firm has its EU base, the main supervisor for them. 

Joerg Nothdurft, a lawyer for the German Cartel Office, countered the point, saying the agency has “almost 100” documents that show how it co-operated with various data protection authorities. 

“We competition authorities cannot assess large digital firms and measure their market power, or judge their behaviour, if we cannot look at what access they have to data and what they do with that data, how much and which data they have, and how much and which data they are allowed to have,” he said.

The challenge comes as Facebook was added to a list of big tech companies that are subject to the German regulator’s beefed-up supervisory powers, following a similar move against Alphabet and its Google unit earlier this year. 

Advocate-general Athanasios Rantos of the EU court said he will issue a non-binding opinion about Tuesday’s case on September 20. Opinions often give an indication which way the court’s judgment will go.

Bloomberg News. For more articles like this please visit Bloomberg.com.

 

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