The European Commission issued Facebook with a €110 million ($122 million) fine for “misleading” European regulators over its controversial acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, the EU institution revealed in a release published on Thursday. The Commission found that the Menlo Park-based social media giant violated the EU Merger Regulation according to which companies are mandated to provide accurate information to investigators in merger probes, adding that the fine issued to the company is meant to serve as a “deterrent” and is proportionate to the significance of Facebook’s transgression. While the Commission didn’t assert that Facebook was actively trying to influence the outcome of its 2014 consolidation investigation by withholding information, the company still violated existing regulations by not fully disclosing all of the implications of its WhatsApp acquisition.
The European antitrust watchdog took issue with the fact that Facebook’s representatives initially didn’t reveal that the company would be able to match Facebook user profiles with WhatsApp accounts, which regulators believe was one of the main motivations behind the social media giant’s decision to purchase the popular instant messaging (IM) service. The firm’s ability to do so came to light following its Terms of Service change in August 2016 that caused a significant backlash from the general public and the top competition regulator on the Old Continent. Following that turn of events, the Commission concluded that Facebook provided it with incomplete and thus misleading information on its WhatsApp acquisition, which prompted a new investigation of the deal that has now been officially concluded with the announcement of the latest Commission-issued antitrust fine.
EU investigators believe that Facebook and WhatsApp had the technical capabilities to match profiles of their joint users back in 2014, implying that the fine wouldn’t have been issued if the profile-matching system that Facebook announced last year was based on a new technology that didn’t exist at the time of its purchase of WhatsApp. The Commission was able to fine Facebook up to $276 — approximately one percent of its annual revenue — but decided for a lower fine due to the fact that the company cooperated with the new investigation. Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp will not be affected by the penalty.