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Thursday, May 18, 2017
European Commission Fines Facebook €110 Million for Providing Misleading Information About WhatsApp Takeover


The European Commission (EC) has fined Facebook €110 million for providing incorrect or misleading information during the Commission's 2014 investigation of Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "Today's decision sends a clear signal to companies that they must comply with all aspects of EU merger rules, including the obligation to provide correct information. And it imposes a proportionate and deterrent fine on Facebook. The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers' effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts."

The EU Merger Regulation obliges companies in a merger investigation to provide correct information that is not misleading as this is essential for the Commission to review mergers and takeover.

When Facebook notified the acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, it informed the Commission that it would be unable to establish reliable automated matching between Facebook users' accounts and WhatsApp users' accounts. However, in August 2016, WhatsApp announced updates to its terms of service and privacy policy, including the possibility of linking WhatsApp users' phone numbers with Facebook users' identities.

On 20 December 2016, the Commission addressed a Statement of Objections to Facebook detailing its concerns.

The Commission has found that, contrary to Facebook's statements in the 2014 merger review process, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook and WhatsApp users' identities already existed in 2014, and that Facebook staff were aware of such a possibility.

The EC's latest decision is unrelated to either ongoing national antitrust procedures or privacy, data protection or consumer protection issues, which may arise following the August 2016 update of WhatsApp terms of service and privacy policy.

The Commission could have fined Facebook up to 1 percent of its turnover - which would have been $276 million based on 2016 results - but said that Facebook had cooperated with the proceedings and acknowledged its infringement.

The EU sanction comes after Facebook received a separate 150,000-euro fine on Tuesday by a French data watchdog for failing to prevent its users' data being accessed by advertisers.

Last week the Italian antitrust authorities levied a 3 million-euro fine on WhatsApp for allegedly obliging users to agree to share their personal data with Facebook.



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