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22nd Oct 2017

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EU wants to know if Facebook lied about Whatsapp

  • Did Mark Zuckerberg's company give false information to the European Commission? (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission said on Tuesday (20 December) it suspects that technology company Facebook has given “incorrect or misleading” information regarding its takeover of mobile application WhatsApp.

The Brussels-based EU executive has given the American company until 31 January 2017 to respond.

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  • If commissioner Vestager uses both Facebook and WhatsApp, her contact lists of the two accounts can be linked (Photo: European Commission)

The case relates to the commission's investigation into Facebook's acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp in 2014.

At the time, Facebook said it was technologically not possible that the accounts of Facebook users and those of WhatsApp users would be linked.

Earlier this year, however, it emerged that WhatsApp would share its users' phone numbers with its parent company Facebook.

The question now is whether Facebook already knew in 2014 that this would be possible two years later.

The commission said in a press release that it took “the preliminary view that, contrary to Facebook's statements and reply during the merger review, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook users' IDs with WhatsApp users' IDs already existed in 2014”.

If true, this means that Facebook had “intentionally, or negligently, submitted incorrect or misleading information” to Brussels.

The press release does not state if the commission would have reached a different conclusion on whether to allow the merger. Instead, the probe “is limited to the assessment of breaches of procedural rules”.

In a written statement, the EU commissioner in charge of mergers and competition cases, Danish politician Margrethe Vestager, stressed that companies are obliged to give the commission accurate information during merger investigations.

"They must take this obligation seriously," she said.

EU commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet told journalists on Tuesday that the concerns are “preliminary”.

“We haven't come to a final conclusion,” she said.

Nevertheless, the accusation is now out there, with no legal deadline for the commission to finish such an investigation.

Facebook was not immediately available for a comment.

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