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23rd Mar 2019

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EU fines Facebook €110 million for WhatsApp lie

  • In 2014, Facebook bought messaging service WhatsApp. (Photo: Luke Porter)

The European Commission handed out a €110 million fine to Facebook on Thursday (18 May) over providing misleading information about its acquisition of mobile chat programme WhatsApp.

EU commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, announced the decision via Twitter on Thursday morning, saying Facebook had given “wrong/misleading information” when it took over WhatsApp.

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Three years ago, Facebook bought WhatsApp, a messaging service.

As part of the commission's check whether mergers do not lead to situations that distort competition, Facebook told the commission that it was not able to link the accounts of Facebook users and WhatsApp users.

But that is precisely what the US company did last year.

Following that, the commission, the EU's executive arm in charge of investigating antitrust cases, opened a case against Facebook last December.

After six months, it concluded that Facebook had misled the EU.

"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 in a press release.

“We need accurate facts to do our job,” commissioner Vestager said on Thursday.

The fine is lower than the maximum fine, which is up to 1 percent of its annual turnover, or around €250 million. The commission called the fine "proportionate and deterrent".

The takeover itself will not be effected by the commission's decision.

It follows a €3 million fine given by Italy's antritust watchdog over allegedly forcing WhatsApp users to agree that their data be shared with Facebook, and €150,000 fine handed out by the French data protection authority over Facebook's changed privacy policy.

Facebook: it was not intentional

A Facebook spokesperson sent a statement to EUobserver on Thursday, saying the "errors we made in our 2014 filings were not intentional".

“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," Facebook said.

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