Facebook fined €110 million by EU over WhatsApp buy

European Union regulators have fined Facebook €110 million for providing misleading information during the investigation of its 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp.

The fine was levied after the social networking company incorrectly told the European Commission competition regulators that it would be unable to establish “reliable automated matching” between WhatsApp and Facebook user accounts.

In August 2016 WhatsApp updated its terms of service and privacy policy to include the possibility of linking WhatsApp users’ phone numbers with Facebook user identities.

After issuing a statement of objections in December 2016, the Commission found that the technical possibility of linking the accounts existed at the time of Facebook’s original submission to the Commission and that Facebook itself was aware of this possibility.

Under EU Merger Regulation, companies must provide correct information regardless of whether this impacts the result of the investigation.

Facebook cooperated with the investigation, which helped reduce the size of the fine.

Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager 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.

She said that the fine was “proportionate and deterrent”.

“The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers' effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts,” Vestager added.

In January, the European Commission proposed new measures that will extend existing telecoms regulation to all electronic communication providers, including OTT services such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype and Viber within their scope.

The rules cover the privacy of internet users, requiring content and metadata in electronic communications to be anonymised or deleted if users have not given their consent, unless it is being used for billing purposes.

In addition, unsolicited electronic communication would be banned if users have not consented.

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