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European Union regulators slap Facebook with fine for misleading them about WhatsApp

19 Mai 2017

The European Commission today imposed a fine of € 110m on Facebook social media network because the United States company provided inaccurate information during the research on the acquisition of the WhatsApp mobile application, according to Reuters and AFP. The full decision is not yet available but a press release can be found here.

When it notified European Union authorities of its plan to acquire WhatsApp in 2014, it told the Commission on at least two occasions that it would not be able to reliably automate the matching of Facebook and WhatsApp accounts.

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.

The fine is for telling the Commission it would not be possible to reliably match Facebook and WhatsApp accounts for the same user - something that would allow the company to better target advertising across the two platforms.

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In December 2016, the Commission addressed a Statement of Objections to Facebook detailing its concerns, as reported in this blog post, in Spanish. The Commission has now confirmed that decision.

Commission rules suggest the social network could have been fined up to 1% of its turnover - a figure that would have been at least twice the amount it has been told to pay. It was calculated taking into account the fact that there were two counts of misleading information being provided and that the information was knowingly misleading, but also recognizes Facebook's cooperation with the investigation.

Cardoso added it was nonetheless "the highest fine we have ever imposed for a procedure infringement in a merger case" and would serve as a deterrent to others. Prior to that, fines had been calculated on a different basis and were significantly lower. Today's decision does not change in any way the green light that has been given for the takeover, the European Commission said.

Nevertheless, the decision provides a clear reminder of the importance of taking due care in the preparation of merger filings and the potentially severe consequences in terms of fines and the revocation of decisions if incorrect information is provided, whether to the European Commission or to national authorities such as the CNMC, which have similar powers.

European Union regulators slap Facebook with fine for misleading them about WhatsApp