Facebook fined equivalent of just four days' profit over WhatsApp deception

Facebook supplied the European Commission with inaccurate information about its takeover of WhatsApp in 2014Getty Images/Carl Court

Facebook has been hit with a €110m (£94.5m) fine by the European Commission for being misleading during its £17bn purchase of WhatsApp in 2014 – but with £25bn in the bank, the social network's wrist has barely been slapped.

The equivalent to a mere four days' profit for the social media giant (based on its first-quarter earnings report), the fine came after the commission ruled that Facebook had submitted false information when asked if it would be possible to link WhatsApp users to their Facebook accounts.

When reviewing Facebook's planned acquisition of WhatsApp in August 2014, the commission looked at if it would be possible for Facebook to link users' accounts to the phone numbers associated to their WhatsApp profiles.

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At the time Facebook replied that it was would not be possible to create a reliable system for matching user IDs.

However, in August 2016 Facebook-owned WhatsApp announced that users' phone numbers would be linked to their Facebook profiles in order to provide better friend suggestions and more relevant advertising.

The commission found that "contrary to Facebook's statements in the 2014 merger review process, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook and WhatsApp users' identities already existed in 2014, and that Facebook staff were aware of such a possibility."

Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement: "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.

"And it imposes a proportionate and deterrent fine on Facebook. The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers' effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts."

A Facebook spokesperson said: "Today's announcement brings this matter to a close."

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