Facebook’s Antitrust Challenge Gets EU Top Court Review

Facebook Inc.’s challenge to a German antitrust attack on its business model will head to the European Union’s top court after a national tribunal sought legal advice on EU data rules.

A Dusseldorf court asked judges at the EU’s Court of Justice to decide whether a violation of data regulations can be cited in an antitrust case. The German tribunal is weighing Facebook’s attempt to overturn a 2019 decision from Germany’s Federal Cartel Office and held a hearing on the case on Wednesday. The antitrust agency had ordered the social network to overhaul how the company tracks users’ web browsing.

The German order is the toughest regulatory curb Facebook has come up against so far in Europe. It is one of several authorities Facebook is fighting in the region, including a lawsuit against European Commission last year over a preliminary antitrust probe, which managed to slow down EU investigators’ demand for data. It has also taken legal action against Ireland’s privacy watchdog and was chastised by a U.K. court for ignoring the country’s merger watchdog.

A spokesman for the Federal Cartel Office said sending the case to the EU court will prolong the proceedings.

The Dusseldorf court criticized the Cartel Office’s order for being overly broad as it was targeting three units -- the German, the Irish and the U.S. parent -- while only the Irish branch is collecting the data. The Cartel Office was also wrong to include other units in its decision without given them a chance to submit their comments beforehand, the judges said.

Facebook said the Dusseldorf court “expressed doubts as to the legality” of the antitrust order, according to a spokesman. The company believes the order “also violates European law.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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