EU fines Facebook $170m over 2014 WhatsApp deal

The EU competition authority slaps a fine on the social media network for providing misleading information during the vetting of its deal to buy WhatsApp to the tune of 110 million euros (S$170 million).
The European Commission, which acts as the European Union's competition watchdog, fined Facebook yesterday for giving misleading information during a vetting of its deal to acquire WhatsApp. Facebook had said in 2014 it could not automatically match
The European Commission, which acts as the European Union's competition watchdog, fined Facebook yesterday for giving misleading information during a vetting of its deal to acquire WhatsApp. Facebook had said in 2014 it could not automatically match user accounts on its namesake platform and WhatsApp, but two years later launched a service that did exactly that.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS • European Union antitrust regulators fined Facebook €110 million (S$170 million) yesterday for giving misleading information during a vetting of its deal to acquire messaging service WhatsApp in 2014.

Calling it a "proportionate and deterrent fine", the European Commission, which acts as the EU's competition watchdog, said Facebook had said it could not automatically match user accounts on its namesake platform and WhatsApp, but two years later launched a service that did exactly that.

"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 commission said.

The Facebook fine "sends a clear signal to companies that they must comply with all aspects of EU merger rules, including the obligation to provide correct information", EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

Facebook said in a statement the errors made in its 2014 filings were not intentional and that the commission had confirmed that they had not affected the outcome of the merger review. "Today's announcement brings this matter to a close," Facebook said.

The fine would not reverse the commission's decision to clear the purchase of WhatsApp and was unrelated to separate investigations into data-protection issues, it added. The commission could have fined Facebook up to 1 per cent of its turnover - which would have been US$276 million (S$428 million) based on results last year - but said that Facebook had cooperated with the proceedings and acknowledged its infringement.

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

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

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'EU fines Facebook $170m over 2014 WhatsApp deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe