EU antitrust chief Vestager gives thumbs up to U.S. crackdown on Facebook

December 10, 2020, 11:59 AM UTC

Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s antitrust chief and scourge of tech giants, gave her seal of approval to U.S. antitrust action against Facebook Inc.

She told lawmakers in Brussels that the U.S. lawsuit shows how technology superpowers are increasingly facing tougher scrutiny around the world. Minutes after she spoke Thursday, German regulators started a fresh antitrust probe into Facebook’s Oculus virtual-reality headsets.

“It’s a sign that the debate on tech dominance has been shifting over the last couple of years,” Vestager said of the U.S. antitrust move in an online meeting with EU lawmakers. “You see that in almost every jurisdiction. You see it in Canada and Australia” as well as the recent U.S. case against Google.

The U.K. Competition and Markets Authority this week even proposed a specialist tech regulator with enhanced power to block deals.

European regulators are planning tougher rules on so-called internet gatekeepers next week that “will enable us to be so much quicker” in moving against companies that violate potential new rules for how they treat smaller rivals, she said.

Vestager, who has slapped Alphabet Inc.’s Google with huge fines, said the complaints filed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general took a different approach from the EU. She said her probes into advertising are “not as advanced.”

Germany’s antitrust authority, known as the Bundeskartellamt, opened an investigation Thursday into Facebook because using Oculus’ latest virtual-reality Quest 2 glasses requires a Facebook account. Oculus was previously operated separately from Facebook, it said, and existing Oculus accounts can no longer be used for the new hardware.

“We intend to examine whether and to what extent this tying arrangement will affect competition,” the authority’s president Andreas Mundt said in an emailed press release.

Oculus devices are not currently sold in Germany, a Facebook spokesperson said. The company “will cooperate fully with the Bundeskartellamt and are confident we can demonstrate there is no basis to the investigation.”

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