E.U. starts new preliminary probe into Google and Facebook's use of data

This is the second time that Europe’s competition authority has looked at how companies deal with users’ data.
European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager speaks in Copenhagen on Nov.  29, 2019.
European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager speaks in Copenhagen on Nov. 29, 2019.Philip Davali / AFP - Getty Images

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/ Source: CNBC.com
By Silvia Amaro, CNBC

The European Union has opened preliminary investigations into Google and Facebook’s data practices, assessing whether the two U.S. tech firms are complying with its rules in the region.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s and Facebook’s data practices. These investigations concern the way data is gathered, processed, used and monetized, including for advertising purposes,” a spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, told CNBC via email Monday.

The spokesperson added that the preliminary investigations are ongoing.

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A spokesperson for Google told CNBC Monday: “We use data to make our services more useful and to show relevant advertising, and we give people controls to manage, delete or transfer their data. We will continue to engage with the Commission and others on this important discussion for our industry.”

A spokesperson for Facebook was not immediately available when contacted by CNBC.

This is the second time that Europe’s competition authority has looked at how companies deal with users’ data. In July, the European Commission opened a formal investigation into Amazon to assess whether the e-retailer was complying with European rules on treating data from independent retailers.

“E-commerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices. We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behavior,” Margrethe Vestager, the E.U.’s competition chief, said at the time.

Vestager, who started her second term in Brussels on Sunday, has led a wider clampdown on how tech giants operate across the 28 E.U. member states. She has asked Ireland to collect 13 billion euros ($14.34 billion) in unpaid taxes from Apple, fined Google a combined of $9.5 billion in antitrust cases, and also accused Facebook of misleading E.U. regulators over its acquisition of WhatsApp.

Speaking to a European publication last month, Vestager said that she might also look into Google’s compliance with new copyright rules after France raised concerns regarding the U.S. tech giant. Shares of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, are up by about 25% year-to-date. Facebook shares have risen about 54% year-to-date.

In 2018, the European Union approved a sweeping data privacy law known as the General Data Protection Rule (GDPR), aimed at giving users’ a bigger say over their data.