Sunday

13th Jun 2021

Facebook cries foul on EU request for internal documents

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a 2018 visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Photo: European Parliament)

Facebook, a US tech giant known for abusing its users' private information, has said the European Commission was now attempting to do the same to Facebook employees' data.

The firm filed its complaints at the EU court in Luxembourg, after the commission asked to see internal documents containing any of 2,500 search phrases as part of an anti-trust enquiry.

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Brussels-based news agency MLex first revealed Facebook's legal counter-strike in a story on Monday (27 July), citing anonymous sources.

Tim Lamb, a senior Facebook lawyer, later confirmed the report.

"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," he said in a statement.

And those documents could include "highly sensitive personal information such as employees' medical information, personal financial documents, and private information about family members of employees," Lamb added.

"We think such requests should be reviewed by the EU courts," he said.

The EU search phrases included "big question ... shut down ... not good for us ... applause ... [and] for free", according to Facebook spokespersons, speaking to the UK's Reuters and BBC news agencies.

That meant the EU commission would see documents about Facebook staff's health details, performance evaluations, and job applications, as well as the firm's internal security arrangements, they said.

The firm had offered to let EU officials look at the texts in a secure room where they could not make copies of them, but the commission refused the offer, Facebook told the BBC.

And the US giant had already shared 1.7m pages of internal documents with EU investigators in a sign of good will, it noted.

The EU commission is currently investigating Facebook in two probes into allegedly anti-competitive behaviour that abused users' private details as well as its dominant online presence.

US congressmen were also due to cross-examine Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday in a separate investigation into alleged abuse of the firm's online "dominance", but the hearing was postponed due to a clash with a memorial service for a US civil rights leader.

Zuckerberg founded the California-based firm in 2004 initially as a platform for US students to talk to each other.

It now has more than 2.5bn users worldwide and income of $71bn (€60bn) a year, according to its 2019 financial results.

It was first outed in 2018 by US investigators for illegally sharing 87 million people's data for election-meddling purposes in the 2016 US vote and fined $5bn for the crime.

It agreed to pay a $650mn settlement earlier this month for allegedly illicit use of facial-recognition software in a US lawsuit.

It has also faced controversy for letting US president Donald Trump threaten Black Lives Matter protestors with violence and for publishing Nazi symbols on its pages.

And it has been targeted, alongside other US tech giants, by EU regulators for mass-scale tax avoidance in European countries in an ongoing spat which saw America threaten to impose counter-sanctions on EU firms.

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An Austrian privacy campaigner vs Facebook over the future of data transfers to the US case opened at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on Tuesday. The European Commission, meanwhile, says the Privacy Shield pact is working fine.

'Big Five' tech giants spent €19m lobbying EU in 2020

The increased regulatory scrutiny of tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft has triggered a rise in lobbying activities by these companies in Brussels, and, accordingly, an exponential grow of their budget for these activities.

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ECJ to clarify power of Belgian watchdog on Facebook cookies

The European Court of Justice is due to decide whether the Belgian data protection watchdog can pursue legal action against Facebook - after the social media network was found guilty of breaching Belgian privacy legislation some five years ago.

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