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EC fines Facebook €110m for 'misleading' data on WhatsApp deal

'Errors' in 2014 filings 'not intentional', apparently

By John Oates, 18 May 2017

The European Commission has fined Facebook €110m (£94.4m) for giving misleading or incorrect information about its takeover of messaging giant WhatsApp.

There were two separate offences – one when Facebook first notified the European Commission that it wanted to buy WhatsApp and a second when it responded to an EC request for further information.

On both occasions the company said it was not possible to automatically and reliably match a WhatsApp user profile and their Facebook profile.

The Commission said it "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.”

The cat was let out of the bag when Facebook changed its Ts&Cs in August 2016 to allow such automatic sharing of data and matching of profiles between the two platforms.

The data swap was criticised at the time by the UK’s Information Commissioner, which said WhatsApp had failed to get proper consent from users to hand over their data to Facebook.

In November 2016, Facebook agreed to pause the process as a result of the ICO probe.

The Commission said the fine would not change its approval of the takeover.

But it warned: “...today's decision is unrelated to either ongoing national antitrust procedures or privacy, data protection or consumer protection issues, which may arise following the August 2016 update of WhatsApp terms of service and privacy policy.”

Facebook sent us the following canned statement: “We've acted in good faith since our very first interactions with the Commission and we've sought to provide accurate information at every turn. The errors we made in our 2014 filings were not intentional and the Commission has confirmed that they did not impact the outcome of the merger review. Today's announcement brings this matter to a close.” ®

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