As EU antitrust regulators examine Meta’s online marketplace and data practices, the company has likened the investigation to a fishing trawler.
Regulators at the European Commission are investigating Meta’s business activities for violations of antitrust laws, receiving over one million documents from the Silicon Valley-based giant since the inquiry started in 2019.
However, Meta questions the relevance, need, and scale of data requests. The company also takes issue with investigators trawling documents with 2,500 key phrases – including “not good for us” and “for free.”
What does this mean for Meta?
The company has no choice but to comply with the Commission’s data requests, facing an eight million fine in case it doesn’t. Consequently, its lawyers have taken the issue to the second-highest court in the EU, the General Court.
According to the company, the Commission’s expansive and vague search terms indicate a fishing expedition.
“The Commission is operating like a fishing super trawler, hoovering up the whole sea bed – with the intention that it will later see what species of rare fish it finds within its vast nets,” Meta lawyer Daniel Jowell explained to the court.
Commission lawyer Giuseppe Conte dismissed Jowell’s concerns, explaining the Commission was investigating seven specific anti-competitive practices. According to the watchdog, the documents and search phrases were vital for determining if there were any infringements.
“The allegation of a fishing expedition is manifestly unfounded,” Conte explained to the court’s panel of five judges. “The subject matter was defined in sufficiently clear terms.”
About the search terms
He further added that under the EU’s case laws, the watchdog was not required to explain its search terms. In fact, Conte explained that the Commission only had to widen its search parameters after Meta failed to comply with its data requests during the preliminary investigation adequately.
The General Court is expected to arrive at a decision in the coming months.