European Union Reviewing Facebook Response To Charges

Antitrust regulators in the European Union have charged Facebook with intentionally providing misleading information during its 2014 WhatsApp acquisition. While the acquisition will remain unchallenged, Facebook could be fined for its misinformation. Part of the WhatsApp privacy policy stated that personally identifying data such as phone numbers would be shared with Facebook, the parent company. This resulted in a series of investigations from multiple European Union data protection authorities.

When Facebook purchased WhatsApp the company may have made a serious mistake with statements they had made regarding access to accounts between the platforms. The European Commission said in December 2016 that statements made by the social media giant during its $22 billion dollar acquisition of WhatsApp were misleading. Facebook had claimed it had not been able to satisfactorily match accounts between the two companies, possibly in an attempt to downplay the company's ability to obtain personally identifying data.

The European Union's Competition Commissioner says that it should technically have been possible to match the two accounts and gave Facebook a January 31st deadline to prepare a defense. In its Statement of Objections, the Commission found that Facebook had the technical ability to match user IDs between users on both platforms.  Facebook has responded to the Commission and the company's statement is now being reviewed by Margrethe Vestager, antitrust chief of the European Union. Having received a response from Facebook's Vestager, the Commission is now in the process of analyzing it, according to a statement made during a Parliament hearing.

According to Vestager, Facebook was obligated to provide the Commission with accurate information while the merger was being investigated, and the company failed to do so. The Commission has expressed concern that Facebook either exhibited negligence or intent when submitting misleading information. This action is in breach of EU imposed obligations as stated in the EU Merger Regulations. Vestager added that it is important that all companies involved in mergers provide accurate information in order to conduct the investigation quickly and effectively. Facebook is facing a fine which could be up to 1 percent of its global profit. According to 2015 records, this could equal to around $179 million. The European Union takes antitrust laws seriously, a point that is emphasized by the $606.44 million fine (561 million euros) imposed on Microsoft in 2013.

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