Will Weber take a hammer to Facebook’s social media monopoly?

Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, delivers his speech during a debate on migration at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 07 June 2016. [EPA/MATHIEU CUGNOT]

Manfred Weber, the head of the EPP group in the European Parliament and lead candidate for Jean-Claude Juncker’s job as the next European Commission president, threw down the gauntlet on Friday (28 September), suggesting that he may support a breakup of Facebook and Whatsapp.

“I consider it necessary to ask the monopoly question,” Weber told the German newspaper Spiegel. Weber announced his candidacy for the top EU job in early September and has also received backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The European Commission should consider whether, for example, after the acquisition of Whatsapp and Instagram, Facebook has a dominant position. In extreme cases, a breakup should also be conceivable,” he said.

Weber also noted that Facebook will continue to be under close scrutiny from the European Parliament, and called on the internet giant to be more transparent in its advertising activities.

Pressure mounts on Facebook after massive data breach

The EU’s Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová has put pressure on Facebook to disclose further details of the massive security breach that impacted around fifty million users last week.

His comments received support from the German socialist faction, with digital policy spokesman, Jens Zimmermann, telling Handelsblatt: “The breaking up of Facebook and other internet companies for the SPD is absolutely in the realm of possibility.”

Zimmermann added that neither Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp nor its buyout of Instagram should have been approved by the Commission.

Germany’s Green party have also backed Weber’s stance.

“Digital companies such as Facebook or Amazon, but also the Chinese Alibaba, have now reached a size that can endanger democracy,” the leader of the Greens in the Digital Committee of the Bundestag, Dieter Janecek said.

In a landmark $19 billion deal, Facebook acquired Whatsapp in 2014. The buyout was heavily scrutinised by the EU’s competition watchdog at the time, who issued a gargantuan €110 million fine to the tech giant for giving misleading information during a vetting of its deal.

EU fines Facebook €110 million over WhatsApp deal

European Union antitrust regulators fined Facebook €110 million on Thursday (18 May) for giving misleading information during a vetting of its deal to acquire messaging service WhatsApp in 2014.

Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to the European Parliament in May, after it transpired that Cambridge Analytica had analysed more than 87 million Facebook users’ data for political campaign work without their knowledge. Around 2.7 million of those users were based in the EU.

Zuckerberg’s appearance in Brussels sparked outrage from some MEPs, who accused the inquisition of being a charade, with British MEP Syed Kamall describing the event as a “get out of jail free card” for Zuckerberg.

However, in his position as leader of the EPP group, Weber had attended the hearing and gestured to a breaking-up of Facebook’s monopoly even back then.

MEPs outraged over Zuckerberg’s EU Parliament show

Tensions soared between a handful of leading MEPs and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the 34-year-old billionaire avoided answering detailed questions on the company’s data policies during a meeting in the European Parliament on Tuesday evening (22 May).

Weber’s comments on Friday come amid a turbulent time for Facebook. The company recently announced that hackers had discovered a security flaw allowing them to capture data belonging to up to 50 million Facebook users.

Thus far, it remains unclear as to the source of the attack, which users have specifically been targeted, as well as whether sensitive personal data has been acquired or not.

The European Commission is yet to reveal if Facebook is likely to expect sanctions for the breach, but Commissioner Jourová, following a statement from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, urged the firm to disclose further details on the hacking.

Meanwhile, Facebook themselves are still investigating the breach.

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