LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Meta lost a bid Wednesday to withhold thousands of documents as EU authorities investigate the parent company of Facebook and Instagram for anticompetitive behavior.
The tech giant claimed that the European Commission's request for documents was too broad and failed to meet data privacy standards, but the General Court of the Court of Justice of the European Union disagreed, ordering Meta to comply.
Wednesday's ruling out of Luxembourg says the requests from the European Commission — the EU's executive body — do not “go beyond what is necessary.”
Between March and November 2019, the commission sent a series of requests to Meta for internal documents relating to how the company uses data from its apps. Meta partially complied but pushed back against some demands that it claimed were too broad.
Brussels asked Meta to turn over all internal documents related to specific search queries, including “big question,” “for free,” and “not good for us” among others. Meta claims the commission requested documents related to 2,500 terms and many would turn up hundreds of documents completely unrelated to the investigation.
Mediation ultimately led the commission to pare back some of its requests, but Meta complained to the court in 2020, arguing Brussels’ demands were exorbitant.
During a hearing in June 2022, Meta’s lawyers called the investigation a fishing expedition, likening the EU to a fishing trawler “hoovering up the whole seabed.”
But Meta’s arguments didn’t catch the five-judge panel, who said that EU legislation gives the commission broad powers of investigation and it could “reasonably suppose” that its request was related to a potential violation of competition regulations. “Certainty cannot be required from the Commission,” the ruling states.
Meta also took issue with the security of handing over the requested information, claiming that the virtual data room proposed by the commission failed to meet privacy standards. Sometimes called a Deal Room because of its frequent use in corporate mergers, the system allows for documents to be viewed securely.
The company proposed that its lawyers first review any requested documents for sensitive personal data before sharing them with the commission, offering to sharing relevant information without sharing the documents themselves. The court rejected this proposal, pointing out that this extra layer of interference could allow Meta to keep information out of the commission’s hands. “That would seriously undermine the Commission’s powers of investigation, with the risk that documents which it might regard as relevant would be omitted and never be presented to the Commission, with no possibility for verification,” the court wrote.
Meta could appeal Wednesday's decision to the EU’s top court. "We take note of the decision of the Court and are considering our options,” the company said in an email.
The commission could fine Meta 8 million euros ($8.6 million) per day if it continues to refuse to hand over the information.
On Monday, Brussels slapped the company with the largest data privacy fine to date in an unrelated case. The European Data Protection Board penalized the company 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) for transferring data from its European servers to those in the U.S. in violation of EU regulations. Meta CEO Nick Clegg says the company will appeal.
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