Facebook hit with €110 million fine for ‘misleading’ EU over WhatsApp data use

Facebook has been slapped with a €110 million fine for misleading the EU over its WhatsApp takeover. The European Commission has ruled that Facebook intentionally mislead officials in order to merge accounts between the two platforms.

The Commission said that Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, knowing full well that it could utilise data by merging user accounts. The investigation was opened in 2016, after Facebook released an update announcing that it could link WhatsApp users’ phone numbers to their Facebook accounts. This is despite the social media giant initially claiming that it would be unable to automate the sharing of data between the two services.

An 18-month investigation concluded that Facebook had intentionally lied or withheld its true intentions on two occasions. The first time was before the takeover deal, when it submitted documents to the European Commission after competing companies had requested it investigate the deal. The second time was in December 2016 after the Commission had submitted a Statement of Objections, following Facebook’s update.

"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,” Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said. “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."

She added: "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. Therefore, Facebook’s breach of procedural obligations was at least negligent."

A spokesman for Facebook said that the company had acted ‘in good faith’ throughout. He said: "We’ve acted in good faith since our very first interactions with the Commission and we’ve sought to provide accurate information at every turn. The errors we made in our 2014 filings were not intentional and the Commission has confirmed that they did not impact the outcome of the merger review. Today’s announcement brings this matter to a close."

Facebook also faces fines from independent countries, with the French Commission imposing a €150,000 fine on the social media company for not giving users enough control over data collecting. The Dutch authorities are also currently investigating and may slap Facebook with yet another fine. 

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