Published: Fri, December 23, 2016
Medical | By Dorothy Lyons

Facebook charged with misleading European Union over $19bn WhatsApp deal

In a response statement, Facebook says it "acted in good faith" during the Commission's investigation.

Facebook's $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 included assurances it could not merge WhatApp data with its other services, such as linking WhatsApp information, including phone numbers, to individual Facebook accounts. The data can be used to target adverts, fight spam and suggest friends.

The EU has issued a formal statement claiming it was provided misleading information by Facebook over its takeover of WhatsApp in 2014 and could face a serious fine.

The commission says it now believes Facebook had the ability to match its own users with Whatsapp accounts when the deal was done, but it presented misleading or incorrect information at the time, breaching European Union merger rules.

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"At this stage, the Commission therefore has concerns that Facebook intentionally, or negligently, submitted incorrect or misleading information to the Commission, in breach of its obligations under the EU Merger Regulation", the statement said. Down the line and following a full investigation, if the Commission's suspicions are confirmed, it could impose a fine of up to 1% of Facebook's turnover.

However, Facebook's newfound matching ability doesn't allow it to send messages across platforms, which it says was the subject of the commission's questions when the merger was being cleared. The EU says Facebook insisted two year ago that due to various technical challenges that it could not establish "reliable automated matching" between the accounts. "They must take this obligation seriously", Vestager said.

"Companies are obliged to give the Commission accurate information during merger investigations".

A Facebook spokesperson said the company was pleased that the EC stands by its clearance of the company's WhatsApp acquisition and would continue to co-operate with regulators to resolve their complaints. In Facebook's case though, the Commission isn't concerned that the merger was anticompetitive; it said so in its official approval of the takeover in October 2014 and even says that sharing data between Facebook and WhatsApp doesn't "raise competition concerns".

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