Facebook sues EU watchdog for invading employees' privacy

Documents requested by the European Commission reportedly contain sensitive information including health data

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Facebook has hit back against an antitrust investigation into its practices by filing an appeal against the European Commission (EC) for invading its employees' privacy. 

The social media giant alleges that the EU regulator is demanding large quantities of highly sensitive data as a part of two investigations which aim to determine whether Facebook is breaching competition laws.

The European Commission has reportedly asked Facebook to hand over internal documents including 2,500 specific key phrases such as “big question”, “shut down” and “not good for us”.

Facebook claims that a number of such documents are unrelated to the case, and also containing “highly sensitive personal information” relating to its employees, such as health information and performance evaluation. 

Facebook has therefore filed an appeal to the EU courts citing privacy concerns, which could potentially influence the course of the antitrust probe. According to a court filing, the social media giant has also asked Europe’s second-highest legal counsel, the Luxembourg-based General Court, to halt similar data requests from the EC until judges make a decision. 

Commenting on the matter, Facebook's competition lawyer Tim Lamb said that the social media giant is “cooperating with the commission and would expect to give them hundreds of thousands of documents”.

However, Lamb added that “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, including highly sensitive personal information such as employees' medical information, personal financial documents, and private information about family members of employees”.

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According to the BBC, Facebook offered EC investigators the chance to view sensitive but unrelated documents in a secure-viewing room where no copies could be made. The EC reportedly refused the offer and pledged to defend the case in court.

Facebook has had a long-standing battle with the EU, with a seven-year investigation into the EU-US data transfer tools coming to an end late last year. However, that did not put an end to the EC’s legal proceedings against the social media giant, as EU’s top court ruled earlier this month that the data transfer mechanism many companies use to transfer data between the EU and the US is no longer valid under GDPR.

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