The European Union (EU) has fined Facebook Inc (FB) over $122 million (or 110 million euros) for providing misleading information about its buyout of popular mobile messaging app WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion. The European Commission, which acts as the competition watchdog for the EU, called the fine “proportionate and deterrent.”
FB vs. European regulators
On Thursday, EU’s antitrust regulators finally brought an end to their long battle with the social networking site over the information provided by it in 2014. According to The New York Times, the fine is one of the largest regulatory penalties against Facebook Inc (FB). A few days before, French and Dutch privacy watchdogs ruled that the U.S. firm had broken strict data protection rules.
On Tuesday, a French data watchdog ordered a 150,000 euro fine on the tech giant for failing to keep its users’ data safe. Last week, Italian antitrust authorities fined WhatsApp over 3 million euros for allegedly obliging users to share their personal data with Facebook Inc (FB), notes Reuters.
Other European countries, including Germany, are also being strict with the social networking site for failing to control hate speech. These countries are issuing hefty penalties for misinformation as well, notes the Times.
EU expect the fine to act as deterrent
Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s antitrust chief, said that the social media giant told the Commission that it would not combine Facebook Inc (FB)’s data with that of the mobile messaging service. However, in August 2016, the U.S. firm announced that it would start sharing the data held by WhatsApp, which has more than 1 billion users, with the rest of the company.
“The Commission has 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 Commission said.
This was, of course, bad for Facebook Inc (FB)’s rivals as it gave the social media giant access to a large amount of data to aid in its online advertising business. In a statement, Vestager said that the recent decision sends a clear signal to companies that they must follow all aspects of EU merger rules.
Facebook won’t appeal against the fine
The U.S. firm said about the EU’s decision, “Today’s announcement brings this matter to a close,” adding that the errors they made in their 2014 filings were not intentional, and the commission has confirmed that it had no impact on the outcome of the merger review.
Further, the company said that it has fully cooperated with Europe’s antitrust officials and will not appeal the financial penalty. Not appealing the penalty ($122 million) is understandable, as the company makes tens of billions of dollars in online advertising every year. The commission said that the social network had acknowledged its infringement and cooperated with the proceedings.
Over the past few years, top U.S. firms, including Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, have become targets of antitrust investigations by European authorities. Such investigations have often resulted in tech companies saying that the region suffers from anti-American bias, notes the Times. However, European policymakers deny any such allegations.