Facebook set for fine over WhatsApp
Brussels was misled on data sharing Social media group’s third penalty in a week
The European Commission is set to fine Facebook for misleading authorities during the 2014 takeover of WhatsApp, in the latest case of Brussels taking on a Silicon Valley giant over its data practices.
The European Commission is poised to fine Facebook for misleading authorities during its takeover of messaging service WhatsApp in 2014, in the latest case of Brussels taking on a Silicon Valley giant.
The commission will not reverse its decision on the merger itself but is expected to levy a large penalty to deter other groups from providing misleading information. It can impose a maximum fine of 1 per cent of Facebook’s 2016 turnover, or $276m, although it has not disclosed how much the fine will be.
“Timely and effective review of mergers depends on the accuracy of the information provided by the companies involved,” said Margrethe Vestager, EU competition chief, when she announced the investigation in December, charging Facebook with misleading it during the approval process of its $21.8bn takeover of WhatsApp in 2014.
In a “statement of objections” announced at that time, Brussels alleged Facebook had falsely claimed that it was technically impossible to combine user data from Facebook and WhatsApp automatically. Ms Vestager added: “Companies are obliged to give the commission accurate information during merger investigations. They must take this obligation seriously.”
WhatsApp announced last summer that it would share user information with its parent company for the first time, so that personal details such as phone numbers and device information could be used to target advertisements and improve products on Facebook.
While a host of Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, have found themselves in the EU competition authority’s crosshairs, Facebook had largely sidestepped the regulatory battle.
But the punishment, expected to be announced today, will be the social media company’s third fine within a week, after regulators in Italy and France levied charges for data protec- tion and privacy violations respectively.
Several European data privacy watchdogs have criticised Facebook and appealed to Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s cofounder and chief executive, to suspend sharing users’ data until the legality of the issue can be resolved.
Although Facebook suspended its collection of WhatsApp data for advertising purposes across Europe from November, regulators in France, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands and Germany have continued to probe its wider activities. In particular, they have taken issue with the way it tracks users across the internet.
Both Facebook and the commission declined to comment.
‘Companies are obliged to give the commission accurate information. They must take this obligation seriously’