Facebook Sues EU Anti-Trust Team Over Excessive Data Requests

Facebook, the world’s most invasive social media giant, is preparing to sue the European Commission over supposed privacy violations, seeking to limit their anti-trust investigation from accessing thousands of internal documents related to employee conduct if they contain any of their designated 2,500 search phrases, according to a statement on Monday.

As reported by The EU Observer, the lawsuit aims to limit regulators to their original goal of investigating how Facebook handles user data and it competes with other social companies in the marketplace, believing these internal documents are irrelevant to the case. Since December of 2019, the company has already provided over 315,000 documents to assist the investigation, said to be the equivalent of 1.7 million pages to the Commission. Even then, EU regulators want to keep digging with the help of a word search.

“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,” stated Timothy Lamb, the director of Facebook’s branch on competition and regulation. “[These include] highly sensitive personal information such as employees’ medical information, personal financial documents, and private information about family members of employees. We think such requests should be reviewed by the EU Courts.”

In turn, the Commission told Reuters they’re willing to defend their requests in court. The report elaborates that regulators want to comb through the documents if they happen to contain any keywords such as “big question”, “shut down” and “not good for us”, according to their source familiar to the requests. Another source confirmed to EURACTIV that the Commission was using this “very broad keyword data” to select documents, believing it “would yield hundreds of thousands of documents including completely irrelevant information”, such as health forms, performance evaluations, and job applications, though it’s hard to imagine alternative contexts where these words would appear in such unrelated documents — assuming that’s what would show up at all.

It’s not like Facebook has a stellar reputation for employee welfare. After all, we’re just two months apart from a report about how Facebook was successfully sued for $52 million by their own admin workers over their horrific work conditions, subjecting 11,000 contractors to a toxic culture of unpredictable firings, unsupervised exposure to traumatic material, rampant episodes of sexual deviancy and open-carried firearms within their facilities. Many employees reported suffering from symptoms of PTSD and even a heart attack-induced death as the result of working for Facebook. Sure, credit where credit is due for the recent appearance of respecting worker rights, but it would feel a little more sincere if it wasn’t the byproduct of a massive lawsuit.

Nevertheless, the report states that Facebook was actually willing to disclose the information to regulators, though only through the format of a so-called “data room”. Under Facebook’s own “secure virtual environment”, it would be impossible for the documents to be copied or stored by any third-party accessing the room. What changed? According to Facebook and sources familiar with the negotiations, the Commission refused access under these conditions, demanding that copies be handed over for regulators to evaluate on their own in their own time. As a result, Facebook is willing to take this to the EU General Court, filing the complaint in Luxembourg on the 15th of July.

Given Facebook’s recent history of legal controversy after legal controversy, it’s curious they’re the ones actually willing to face another procedural fight. Although the company can withstand the brunt of European regulators, halting these requests until a final decision by the court, the situation in America continues to boil into a trust-busting cold war. It was just recently that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the “Behavioral Advertising Decisions Are Downgrading Services (BAD ADs) Act,” a piece of legislation threatening targeted ads and Section 230 of U.S. Constitution — as passed through the Communications Decency Act — which shields online businesses from lawsuits over content posted by third parties, be it their associating advertisers or common users.

This bill will likely receive the support of President Donald Trump, a rather incoherent critic of big tech, who already signed an executive order demanding new regulatory oversight of tech firms’ content moderation decisions. He has also alluded to his support of removing Section 230, though has often failed to explain how its removal would achieve any digital justice. As it stands, Facebook (among other companies such as Google, Apple, and Amazon) could see their dirty laundry continuously aired into 2021, as reported by sources for The New York Times familiar with current anti-trust on Capitol Hill. 

“The investigation into whether the tech giant has broken antitrust laws continues to move along,” the Times reports, elaborating on the FCC’s handling of the Facebook and Google investigations. “A round of document production from the company and its rivals was done in the spring, and staff members appear to be preparing depositions of Facebook’s top leadership, including its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg… But investigations often require multiple rounds of document requests, and the interviews will take time to complete, indicating that the [FCC] is far from finishing its review and deciding whether to pursue a lawsuit.”

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