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Facebook facing investigation over concerns about ‘unfair advantage’

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The UK’s competition regulator has launched a fresh investigation into Facebook over concerns that the tech giant might be abusing a dominant position in digital advertising.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will look into how the social network gathers and uses certain data and whether it may provide an unfair advantage over rivals in the online classified ads and online dating space.

As well as Facebook’s advertising services, the CMA will also look at Facebook Login, a feature that allows people to sign into third-party websites and apps across the internet using their Facebook credentials, as part of its probe.

The regulator said it will assess whether data from both offerings enable the firm to benefit Facebook Marketplace, a part of the platform where users can place classified ads, and Facebook Dating.

The announcement comes as the European Commission launched its own investigation into the company’s use of data.

“We intend to thoroughly investigate Facebook’s use of data to assess whether its business practices are giving it an unfair advantage in the online dating and classified ad sectors,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.

“Any such advantage can make it harder for competing firms to succeed, including new and smaller businesses, and may reduce customer choice. We will be working closely with the European Commission as we each investigate these issues, as well as continuing our coordination with other agencies to tackle these global issues.”

In an unexpected, and unrelated, change in its attitude towards elected officials, Facebook is expected to announce that it will no longer extend special treatment to content posted by politicians. This follows the Capitol riot in January and Donald Trump's perceived incitement and endorsement of the violence, after which Facebook banned Trump entirely from the platform. Prior to this, Facebook had almost entirely taken a hands-off approach towards content posted by politicians, citing free speech concerns and claiming all such posts were in the public interest.

Facebook's change of heart follows the recommendations of its own Oversight Board, which criticised the laissez-faire attitude towards politicians using the service and recommended that henceforth the "same rules should apply to all users".      

Meanwhile, Twitter – Facebook's long-time social media rival – has launched a premium tier called Twitter Blue. The main attraction of the paid-for service is an 'undo' function, which allows an impulsive user to retract a tweet and make changes up to 30 seconds after hitting send. This effectively creates a delay, or a sanity buffer, giving the user time for reflection and revision before their tweet finally goes live to the public.

Further exclusive enhancements – such as the ability to organise saved tweets in bookmark folders, access to a reader mode for longer threads, and dedicated customer support – are being rolled out as part of Twitter Blue, which has debuted in Australia and Canada priced at $4.49AUD and $3.49CAD per month (£1.90 and £2.04 respectively). This is the first time Twitter has charged to use its service, as the company seeks new revenue streams to supplement its income from advertising.

Twitter has assured users that the move is not part of a plan to eventually start charging to use the entire platform, saying in a blog post that the existing free service “is not going away, and never will”.

The blog post added: “This subscription offering is simply meant to add enhanced and complementary features to the already existing Twitter experience for those who want it.”

Prior to the soft launch in Australia and Canada, Twitter Blue had been spotted listed as an in-app purchase in app stores, with a UK price of £2.49 per month. No UK launch date has been confirmed.

Twitter Blue follows the 'Tip Jar' for profiles, which enables users to send money to others on the platform as a way to “receive and show support” on the site.

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