By Sam Schechner And Tom Fairless 

Increasingly wary of the growing power of a set of U.S. technology superpowers, European officials are escalating their scrutiny of companies including Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Google Inc. in realms that span taxation, personal privacy and competition law.

Government privacy watchdogs from France, Spain and Italy have in recent weeks joined a group that is investigating Facebook's privacy controls, officials said, doubling the number of European countries where regulators are analyzing the way Facebook handles the personal information and connections gleaned from more than 300 million users in Europe. At the same time, the European Union's antitrust regulator in Brussels is examining Apple's agreements with record labels, as the iPhone maker prepares to launch a subscription music-streaming service that will compete with European players such as Spotify AB.

EU officials are also planning to move forward in a long-running competition probe of Google in coming weeks, a person familiar with the matter said Wednesday, setting the stage for possible formal charges against the search giant. Google has denied any anticompetitive behavior. Meanwhile, Inc. and Apple have been named in recent tax investigations. France and Germany are pushing for new rules to regulate big Internet companies.

All these fresh moves follow years of probes, regulatory scrutiny and saber-rattling from politicians in Brussels and other European capitals. But the recent pile-on also comes as regulators and government officials in Europe become increasingly emboldened to take on Silicon Valley.

In part, European officials say they must protect European industries--from advertising to automobiles-- from foreign companies they allege don't play by local rules. But European authorities are also banding together to challenge companies in new ways, including under new interpretations of EU law that haven't been tried previously.

"We are showing a united front before a global actor," Mathias Moulin, a top official at French privacy regulator CNIL, said of the Facebook probes. "Facebook, Google and the others--they require coordinated responses."

Facebook said it follows EU privacy laws and has been audited regularly by the privacy regulator in Ireland. The company added that it hasn't yet heard from France, Spain or Italy about privacy probes. "If we receive additional inquiries, we will respond appropriately," a spokeswoman said.

The wave of privacy investigations into Facebook is a prime exhibit of European enforcers' new swagger. Until now, Facebook tended to fall under the purview of a regulator in a single country, Ireland, where it has its European headquarters. But with Europe planning a strict new privacy law--and with backing from Europe's highest court that privacy regulators have jurisdiction over foreign companies--some regulators are taking more-aggressive stances.

"For Facebook, this is a telling sign of the future," said Christian Wiese Svanberg, a privacy attorney at Plesner, a Copenhagen-based law firm. "This is exactly the kind of thing that they want to be doing going forward," he added of the regulators.

At issue in the Facebook probes is an element of last year's "right to be forgotten" decision by the European Court of Justice, which stemmed from a case in Spain. In making its ruling, the court said the Spanish privacy regulator had the jurisdiction to enforce EU privacy laws against Google because the company had an advertising-sales office in Spain.

Initially, privacy watchdogs in the Netherlands, Belgium and Hamburg, Germany, opened probes into the new privacy policy Facebook rolled out earlier this year. Since then, France and Spain recently added their own investigations, while Italy says it is coordinating with the group but not investigating independently.

Facebook has asserted that the regulators launching the coordinated probes aren't empowered to investigate it, because its EU privacy compliance is overseen in Ireland. People close to Facebook add that the Google-Spain precedent doesn't apply because Google didn't previously claim to submit to any EU data-protection regulators as Facebook does.

But some European regulators don't accept that reasoning. "As we certainly do not agree with Facebook here, our investigations are ongoing and will be continued," said Johannes Caspar, head of the data-protection authority in Hamburg, where Facebook's German office is located.

Antitrust is another area where European regulators have started to push further than in the past. The antitrust charges the EU might file against Google in coming weeks would mark a stiff escalation of the prior antitrust chief Joaquín Almunia's more pragmatic approach of seeking a settlement.

When it comes to its tax investigations, the EU is also turning to a relatively new tactic: arguing that Amazon's and Apple's tax arrangements with Luxembourg and Ireland, respectively, amount to illegal state aid. That could allow the bloc to claw back billions of euros in back taxes. Both Amazon and Apple, as well as the countries, deny there were sweetheart deals. Amazon and Apple also say they comply with tax laws.

Still, some U.S. tech companies are exploiting EU laws to fight back. Uber Technologies Inc., which has faced a mounting regulatory backlash to its rapid growth in Europe, said this week it had filed complaints with regulators in Brussels against France, Germany and Spain. It claims those countries have violated EU laws requiring service providers to be treated in a nondiscriminatory way by seeking to ban some of Uber's services.

"This is supposed to be a single market," said Mark McGann, Uber's head of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "What we're finding is that we're getting treated in completely different ways in different countries, and even within individual countries."

The new Apple case related to music puts the EU in the middle of yet another, new business model that is shaking up the traditional world of record labels, such as Universal Music Group, owned by Vivendi SA of France.

The European Commission, the region's top competition regulator, has sent questionnaires to several record labels seeking information about their dealings with Apple, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The regulator is interested in the companies' deals and correspondence with Apple, as well as their dealings with other music-streaming services, one of the people said. It is concerned that Apple could use its market clout and relations with music labels to pressure them to abandon rival streaming services, one of the people added.

Apple and the European Commission both declined to comment on the music-streaming inquiry.

The decision to send questionnaires is an early step in the EU's antitrust process and doesn't mean a formal investigation will be opened. If EU regulators do press ahead with formal charges, they could result in fines or demands that Apple change its behavior.

Apple bought the $10-a-month subscription streaming service Beats Music last year as part of a $3 billion acquisition that included headphone maker Beats Electronics. The deal, Apple's largest ever, offered it a way to bolster its iTunes music offerings as album downloads--a business that Apple pioneered--started to slow in the face of streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora Media Inc. Apple is expected to relaunch Beats Music later this year as part of iTunes.

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