Meta promises UK it won't pilfer rivals' ad data to build Facebook Marketplace

Once it knows how to stop, anyway

Remember when the European Commission and the UK started investigating Meta on the suspicion it was helping itself to rivals' data and using it to build its own products, including Facebook Marketplace?

On the UK competition regulator's side at least, Meta has offered not to do this, but first needs to implement new technical systems and train up its staff.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said today [PDF] that Meta serves social media users on one side, and sells Digital Display Advertising (DDA) on social media to advertisers on the other. Among the CMA's concerns were that Meta would use its DDA customers' data for "purposes beyond the provision of DDA."

In the EU, the case reached the stage of formal objections in December last year after the trading bloc said Zuckerberg's business was "imposing unfair trading conditions on Facebook Marketplace's competitors for its own benefit."

The EU further alleged the antisocial network was pulling in a stash of "ads-related data derived from competitors," claiming it could use that information to get the upper hand.

In its December Statement of Objections, the European Commission also noted that Facebook users automatically have access to Facebook Marketplace, whether or not they want to, claiming this gives Meta a "substantial distribution advantage that competitors cannot match." It also accused Meta of collecting "vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond, enabling it to target specific customer groups."

Tim Lamb, Meta's head of EMEA competition, told us in a prepared statement at the time: "The claims made by the European Commission are without foundation."

Over in the UK, things have moved on a bit. Meta's offer of binding commitments, outlined today, includes three main prongs:

  1. Facebook Marketplace technical solution: Meta has offered to "implement technical systems to prevent the use of certain competitor advertising data in the operation of Facebook Marketplace and the development and/or improvement of the product design, layout and/or functionality of Facebook Marketplace." According to the document, this only applies for advertisers who have "voluntarily opted out of their advertising data being used, or who have been proactively opted out by Meta (and who have not objected to this)."
  2. Ts&Cs: Meta said it would use "all reasonable endeavors to ensure that employees working on product development refrain from using data it receives or otherwise has by virtue of providing DDA and business tool services to develop or improve Meta's products in competition with specific products or services offered by advertisers."
  3. Finally, Meta said it would institute "compliance measures for relevant employees, including mandatory annual training and the signature of personal acknowledgments and agreements to the restrictions on the use of data."

Advertising revenue, as the CMA points out in the document, accounted for approximately 97 percent of Meta's worldwide revenue in 2022.

We've asked Meta for comment on today's consultation – the last step before the UK regulator accepts Meta's concessions and drops the case.

Subject to the "consultation responses," the CMA said it would probably accept the proposed commitments. So if you're a stakeholder or a business rival, now is the time to object. You have until 1700 local time on June 26. ®

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