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EU fines Facebook €110m for misleading information during WhatsApp takeover

Tim Maytom

Facebook is being fined €110m (£94m) by the European Commission's antitrust regulators for providing misleading information during the vetting of its deal to acquire WhatsApp back in 2014. Facebook claimed it could and would not automatically match user accounts on its main platform and WhatsApp, but two years later launched a service that did exactly that.

“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,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “And 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.”

The fine will not reverse the Commission’s decision to approve the acquisition of WhatsApp, and is unrelated to separate investigations into data protection issues that are also being carried out. According to Facebook, the errors were not intentional, and the Commission has confirmed that they would not have affected the outcome of the merger review.

The EU sanction comes less than a week after Facebook received a separate €150,000 fine by a French data watchdog for failing to prevent users’ data being accessed by advertisers, and last week Italian antitrust authorities levied a €3m fine against WhatsApp for allegedly obliging users to agree to share their personal data with Facebook.

The European Commission could have fined Facebook up to one per cent of its aggregated turnover for the year, which would have totalled $276m based on its 2016 results, but “also considered the existence of mitigating circumstances, notably the fact that Facebook cooperated with the Commission during the procedural infringement proceedings”.