Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

EU’s Vestager ‘Exploring’ Need to Probe Deals With Valuable Data

  • Data could be important in how a merger affects competition
  • EU has mentioned Microsoft-LinkedIn as deal where data is key

User data could be a key factor in how a merger affects competition in the future, European Union antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager warned as the EU prepares to review Microsoft Corp.’s acquisition of professional social network LinkedIn Corp.

Firms looking at deals as a way to increase their hold on data may face greater scrutiny from the EU as regulators are exploring the need to start looking deeper at such tie-ups, even where the target company doesn’t have large sales, she said in prepared remarks Thursday.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

“A company might even buy up a rival just to get hold of its data, even though it hasn’t yet managed to turn that data into money,” she said.

Vestager, who took office at the end of 2014, has signaled a willingness to delve more into how merging companies leverage the trove of data at their disposal. Data was one of the key considerations in the review of Facebook Inc.’s takeover of messaging service WhatsApp Inc. While the EU cleared it in October 2014, Vestager said earlier this month officials were now "asking some follow-up questions" about privacy-policy changes.

Vestager already signaled in June that Microsoft’s acquisition of professional social network LinkedIn Corp. is another deal where any EU probe would likely focus on its potential to leverage vast amounts of user data.

The European Commission would look at whether “the data purchased in the deal has a very long durability and might constitute a barrier for others, or if they can be replicated so that others stand a chance to enter the market,” she said.

Vestager has warned that personal data gathered by searches and online behavior helps pay for web services that people think of as free.

“Companies need to make sure they don’t use data in a way that stops others competing,” she said Thursday. “But that doesn’t mean there’s a problem, just because you hold a large amount of data.”

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