EU acted like a fishing super trawler in antitrust data searches, Meta lawyer says

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Meta Platforms Inc on Wednesday compared searches by EU antitrust regulators to a fishing super trawler as they investigate the owner of Facebook’s data and online marketplace.

Meta says it has already handed over more than a million documents to the European Commission since its first request in 2019 regarding its Facebook Marketplace, social networking and online classified ads.

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It has, however, questioned the necessity and proportionality of the data requests and the reasons provided by the EU competition watchdog. The company has also criticized the agency’s use of 2,500 search phrases - including “big question,” “for free” and “not good for us” -- to trawl the company’s documents.

The company, which faces an 8 million euro ($8.6 million) daily penalty payment if it does not comply with the demands, subsequently took its grievance to the General Court, the EU’s second highest.

“One needs to put together the vague nature of what is under investigation with these extraordinarily wide ranging and general search terms. Once one does that, it is, with respect, obvious what is going on here. This is a classic fishing expedition,” Meta lawyer Daniel Jowell told the panel of five judges.

“Indeed, we would go further. 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,” he said.

The court will rule in the coming months.

Read more: Facebook takes EU antitrust regulator to court for excessive data requests

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