Facebook fined $120m over WhatsApp deal

Margrethe Vestager

Facebook has been fined 110 million euros ($122 million) by European regulators for providing "misleading information" about its acquisition of instant messaging service WhatsApp. The commission was informed that they didn't have the capability of having automated matching between the user accounts from the two services. Taking into account Facebook's cooperation with the Commission's investigation into the matter, by inter alia waiving its right to have an oral hearing, the Commission ultimately imposed a fine of Euro 110 million on Facebook.

The Commission's issue centers around the USA social networking giant linking Facebook accounts to WhatsApp user identities.

Nevertheless, the decision provides a clear reminder of the importance of taking due care in the preparation of merger filings and the potentially severe consequences in terms of fines and the revocation of decisions if incorrect information is provided, whether to the European Commission or to national authorities such as the CNMC, which have similar powers.

She described the fine - for hiding the company's hypothetical ability to match up users' activity on Facebook.com with their behavior elsewhere on line - as "proportionate". The commissioner further said, "the Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers' effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts".

The Commission said Thursday's decision and the fine would have no impact on its October 2014 clearance of the deal.

Facebook committed two separate infringements by providing incorrect and misleading information in the merger notification form and in the reply to a Commission request for information.

After investigating, the Commission concluded that Facebook must have known of this possibility at the time of the merger, and thus mislead the Commission.

According to European Union merger regulation, the EC can impose a fine totalling 1 per cent of a company's aggregated turnover if it has provided misleading or incorrect information. Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said the fine was less than it could have been because Facebook cooperated. But the company said it wouldn't allow people to opt out of sharing their phone numbers with Facebook.

However, in August 2016, the Californian business modified WhatsApp's confidentiality policy, resulting in the data collected with this application being used to suggest an ad for other group applications such as Facebook or Instagram.



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