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The European Commission is set to open a formal probe into Facebook’s alleged anti-competitive practices as it seeks to understand whether the company is undermining rivals in classified advertising.

EU officials have already sent at least three rounds of questions to Facebook and its rivals asking whether the social network is distorting the classified ads business by promoting its Marketplace services for free to its 2bn users.

Facebook launched its Marketplace in 2016, allowing its users to sell or buy goods from each other without fees.

Facebook has so far been the only US Big Tech company to have escaped a formal antitrust investigation. The EU has previously launched investigations into Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google.

The launch of a formal probe could come in days though the timing is still being discussed and the scope of the investigation is also being finalised, according to three senior people with direct knowledge of the case.

The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, declined to comment. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past the company has said that it develops its services and products while complying with EU law.

Relations between Facebook and the European Commission have been tense throughout the early stages of evidence gathering, according to several people directly involved in the process. Facebook even took Brussels to court over concerns that the questions that officials were asking were too broad and invaded the privacy of its employees.

Facebook is also facing a separate antitrust probe in the UK. The Competition and Markets Authority is looking into whether the social network is allegedly using data it collects to undermine rivals in online advertising.

Like Brussels, UK regulators are likely to zoom in on Facebook’s behaviour around its Marketplace.

The EU’s probe into Facebook’s practices is the latest of a string of recent antitrust investigations into Big Tech. Only weeks ago, Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s executive vice-president in charge of competition and digital policy, formally accused Apple of distorting competition by charging high fees to competing streaming services. The case is one of a number of antitrust cases currently open against Apple.

Brussels also formally pressed charges against Amazon for allegedly undermining smaller rivals on its platform last summer. And it is also looking at potential anti-competitive behaviour by Coca-Cola.

EU regulators are also currently looking at Google’s potential anti-competitive behaviour in the Adtech space and have sent a series of questionnaires to rivals as well

 

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