Facebook has been fined €110m (£94m) by the EU for providing misleading information about its 2014 takeover of WhatsApp. The European commission said it had imposed a “proportionate” fine on the technology company to send a clear signal that all firms must comply with EU competition rules.
When Facebook took over the WhatsApp messaging service in 2014, it told the commission it would not be able to match user accounts on both platforms, but went on to do exactly that.
The commission found that Facebook staff knew in 2014 that it was technically possible to link WhatsApp phone numbers with Facebook users’ identities, contrary to their public statements about the merger.
In a statement Facebook said the errors were not intentional and noted that the commission confirmed these submissions had not changed the outcome of the merger inquiry. “Today’s announcement brings this matter to a close,” Facebook said.
The fine could have been more than twice the size, as competition authorities are able to fine rule-breaking companies 1% of annual turnover, which for Facebook was $276m (£211m) in 2016. But the commission said it had taken into account the company’s cooperation during the inquiry.
The decision to allow the Facebook-WhatsApp merger is unaffected by the latest announcement, the commission said.
“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 the EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager. “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 European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said it was disappointing that the commission had not revised its original decision in favour of the merger.