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European antitrust chief says user data may factor into merger reviews

European antitrust chief says user data may factor into merger reviews
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The top antitrust regulator in the European Union said on Thursday that officials are weighing whether to more heavily factor the acquisition of data into the way it vets mergers.

“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,” said Margrethe Vestager, according to the prepared text of a speech delivered in Brussels.

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“We are therefore exploring whether we need to start looking at mergers with valuable data involved, even though the company that owns it doesn't have a large turnover.”

Her comments come as regulators in Europe review Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn. Vestager has previously said that they would look at the impact of Microsoft acquiring LinkedIn’s user data as part of the deal.

There are also growing questions about Facebook’s plan to use data from subsidiary WhatsApp for ad targeting and other purposes.

Privacy advocates in the United States have said that Facebook’s decision to use the data comes into conflict with the Federal Trade Commission’s expectation that WhatsApp would abide by its promises to users about privacy after the sale.

Vestager has frequently proved willing to pursue American tech companies for antitrust violations. She has charged Google with competition violations in three separate cases, for example, but has said that her cases aren’t motivated by national bias.