In an unprecedented move, Facebook is suing the European Union over its investigation into its platform activities.
Facebook is being probed in two separate investigations involving competition law breaches in Europe, and the European Commission has demanded internal documents from Facebook, which include 2,500 specific key phrases.
The Silicon Valley giant said the demand means handing unrelated and highly sensitive data over to the Commission.
“We are cooperating with the commission and would expect to give them hundreds of thousands of documents.
“The exceptionally broad nature of the commission’s requests means we would be required to turn over predominantly irrelevant documents that have nothing to do with the commission’s investigations, including highly sensitive personal information such as employees’ medical information, personal financial documents, and private information about family members of employees,” said Tim Lamb, Facebook’s competition lawyer.
Facebook said it has been cooperating with the commission’s investigation by providing necessary information, but requests for documents involving the phrases “big question,” “shutdown” and “not good for us” could force the company to hand over confidential security assessments of its California headquarters to the commission.
It said it offered the commission investigators the opportunity to view sensitive but unrelated documents in a secure ‘eyes only’ viewing room, where no copies could be made, but the commission turned the offer down.
But the commission said it would defend the case and proceed with its anticompetitive investigation against Facebook.
Facebook has been under EU competition enforcer’s scrutiny since last year. The two separate investigations have been on its trove of data and its online marketplace, where users buy and sell things, and it’s available in over 70 countries with 800 million users since it was launched in 2016.
The California-based platform is also asking the General Court in Luxembourg, Europe’s second highest court, to stop the commission from making further data requests until the court makes a ruling on its application.
Facebook is due to testify before the United States congress on Wednesday alongside Apple, Amazon and Google over the dominance of small digital platforms and antitrust issues.
This is also coming at a time when the company is facing the greatest apathy of its existence. The “boycott Facebook” campaign is gaining momentum far across the Atlantic. The coalition of advocacy groups under the aegis of Stop Hate for Profit has taken their campaign to Europe, calling on companies to stop advertising on the platform.
The movement which started in June has drawn a lot of support from brands, including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Ford. The group had urged ad buyers to quit Facebook for the month of July in an attempt to force it to change its behavior toward hate and racial injustice being promoted on the platform.
However, Facebook said it wouldn’t bend to their yearning because it will set a precedent that will hunt the company in the future, where anyone can make demands and expect it to yield.
Now, the coalition coordinated in Europe by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) is calling on British and other European companies to join the movement.
“98% of Facebook’s revenue comes from packaging up its users’ data and selling it to advertisers. By persuading more than 1,000 companies to stop advertising on Facebook, Stop Hate for Profit has shown it can materially disrupt their business model.
“We are appealing to UK and European advertisers to take a stand against racism and pause their advertising on Facebook until we see real change,” said Imran Ahmed, CCDH’s chief executive.
Facebook derives 98% of its $70.7 billion annual revenue from advertising, with a total of 8 million advertisers. But small businesses provide the majority of the income, so it’s not sure if the support of more multinationals for the campaign could get it to yield.
However, the suit against European Commission appears to be marking the company’s readiness to fight back, and it may set a trajectory for other big tech companies to challenge regulatory agencies in court.
The US big tech companies have been subjects of scrutiny in the United States and Europe, with antitrust and the use of private data being the primary concerns.