EU Probes Facebook Over WhatsApp Merger

(CN) – European regulators on Tuesday said they suspect Facebook gave them “incorrect or misleading” information during their examination of its 2014 merger with mobile messaging service WhatsApp.

The European Commission said it believes that despite an assertion to the contrary, Facebook had the technology at the time to match its users’ accounts with WhatsApp user accounts. The regulatory body said it was tipped to the truth by an update earlier this year to WhatsApp’s terms of service, which notified users of the possibility of linking their phone numbers with their Facebook identities.

In its statement of objections sent to Facebook on Tuesday, the commission said it believes the technology to automatically link the platforms’ users already existed at the time of the merger and that Facebook either “intentionally or negligently submitted incorrect or misleading information to the commission” during its examination of the merger.

“Companies are obliged to give the commission accurate information during merger investigations. They must take this obligation seriously. Our timely and effective review of mergers depends on the accuracy of the information provided by the companies involved,” competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In this specific case, the commission’s preliminary view is that Facebook gave us incorrect or misleading information during the investigation into its acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook now has the opportunity to respond.”

Facebook has until Jan. 31 to respond, and the commission stressed this investigation will not affect its clearance of the merger.

The social media giant faces a fine of up to one percent of its annual turnover – $18 billion in 2015 – if the commission’s suspicions are confirmed.

In a statement, Facebook said it’s confident the commission will find it acted in good faith.

“We’ve consistently provided accurate information about our technical capabilities and plans, including in submissions about the WhatsApp acquisition and in voluntary briefings before WhatsApp’s privacy policy update this year,” Facebook said. “We’re pleased that the commission stands by its clearance decision, and we will continue to cooperate and share information officials need to resolve their questions.”

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