On June 1, 2022, the General Court heard arguments from Meta (previously Facebook) and the Commission in the case relating to Meta’s challenge of a Commission decision dated May 4, 2020, issued in the context of the Commission’s antitrust investigation into Facebook’s data- related practices.[1]


In 2019, the Commission started an informal investigation into Facebook’s data-related practices and sent a number of requests for information to Meta.[2] On May 4, 2020, the Commission issued a decision requesting internal documents from Meta that were responsive to certain search terms. On July 15, 2020, Meta lodged an appeal against this decision for reasons of “excessive demands.”[3] Meta argued that the contested decision requested internal documents that were irrelevant to the investigation, and documents of a personal and/or private nature.[4]

On October 29, 2020, the General Court granted interim relief, ordering the creation of a data- sharing framework involving a virtual data room with limited access to enable the Commission to access the data requested whilst seeking to ensure that sensitive data benefited from “strong legal protections”.[5]

Meta’s pleas and arguments raised at the hearing

Meta relied on four pleas to supports its case. First, Meta alleged that the decision failed to define the subject of the investigation in sufficiently clear or consistent terms, contrary to a number of provisions and principles of EU law, including good administration and legal certainty, and in breach of Meta’s rights of defense. Second, Meta argued that the majority of the documents requested were wholly irrelevant and personal, in breach of the principle of necessity. The request thereby violated Meta’s rights of defense and constituted a misuse of powers. Third, Meta contended that the Commission infringed the right to privacy, the principle of proportionality and the right to good administration by requiring the production of many wholly irrelevant and personal documents, including correspondence regarding medical issues of employees and their families. Finally, Meta claimed that the decision was supported by insufficient reasoning because it failed to explain why its search terms would only identify documents that are necessary and relevant to the Commission’s investigation, and why a review of the documents for relevance by external lawyers or the use of a data room were not permitted.

At the hearing, Meta reportedly argued that the vague manner in which the Commission requested information from the company as part of the antitrust probe was a “classic fishing expedition.” Meta described the Commission to be “[…] operating like a fishing super trawler, hoovering up the whole sea bed – with the intention that it will later see what species of rare fish it finds within its vast nets.”[6]

The Commission’s defense

At the hearing, the Commission argued that the contested decision identified five specific potential anticompetitive practices, and fully conformed to the required standard of reasoning. The Commission contended that the allegation that it was on a fishing expedition was “manifestly unfounded” and that it was for the Commission to determine which documents should be included in the case file.

The Commission also explained that its approach to the investigation had been gradual and that Facebook had provided few documents in response to the initial requests. The Commission is reported to have claimed that it followed its standard practice and engaged with Meta in a constructive manner when negotiating search terms. Finally, the Commission added that the right to privacy was sufficiently protected through the safeguards in place, including the data room.

[1]      Meta Platform Ireland v. Commission (Case T-451/20).

[2]      The Commission is investigating Facebook’s data-related practices in a, still informal, investigation (Case AT.40628). In a separate investigation, the Commission is assessing whether Facebook tied its classified ads service, Facebook Marketplace, to its social network (Case AT.40684). See Commission Press Release IP/21/2848, “Antitrust: Commission opens investigation into possible anticompetitive conduct of Facebook,” June 4, 2021.

[3]      Meta Platform Ireland v. Commission (Case T-451/20).

[4]      Meta lodged another appeal in relation to a decision issued as part of the Facebook Marketplace investigation. See Facebook Ireland v. Commission (Case T-452/20).

[5]      Meta Platform Ireland v. Commission (Case T-451/20) EU:T:2020:515, as reported in our October 2020 EU Competition Law Newsletter.

[6]      See EU acted like a fishing trawler in antitrust data searches, Meta lawyer says, Reuters, June 1, 2022, available here.