Brussels will open a formal antitrust probe on Facebook

The European Commission will open a formal probe into Facebook’s alleged anti-competitive practices as it seeks to understand whether the company is undermining rivals in classified ads.

EU officials they have already sent at least three rounds of inquiries to Facebook and its rivals asking if the social network distorts classified ad activity by promoting its Marketplace services for free to its 2bn users.

Facebook launched its Marketplace in 2016, allowing its users to sell or buy goods from others at no cost.

Facebook has so far been the only American Big Tech company to have escaped a formal antitrust investigation. The EU has previously initiated investigations into Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google.

The launch of a formal probe could come in a few days even if the timetable is still under discussion and the purpose of the investigation is still finalized, according to three senior people with direct knowledge of the case.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, declined to comment. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, the company has struggled to develop its services and products respecting EU law.

Relations between Facebook and the European Commission have been strained during the early stages of evidence collection, according to several people directly involved in the process. Facebook has also taken over Brussels in court due to concerns that the questions that officials were asking were too broad and invaded the privacy of their employees.

Facebook is also facing a separate antitrust probe into the UK. The Competition and Markets Authority is looking into whether the social network allegedly uses the data collected to undermine rivals in online advertising.

Like Brussels, UK regulators are likely to zoom in on Facebook’s behavior around its Market.

The EU probe into Facebook’s practices is the latest in a series of recent antitrust investigations into Big Tech. Just weeks ago, Margrethe Vestager, EU executive vice president in charge of competition and digital policy, formally accused Apple of distortion of competition charging high fees to competing streaming services. The case is one of numerous antitrust cases currently open against Apple.

Brussels also formally accused Amazon of undermining smaller rivals on its platform last summer. And it also looks at potential anti-competitive behavior from Coca-Cola.

EU regulators are currently monitoring Google’s potential anti-competitive behavior in the US Adtech space and have sent a series of questionnaires to rivals as well.

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