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Facebook could face $180M fine for allegedly misleading EU

Facebook said it was impossible to merge its data with that of WhatsApp, then did it, angering privacy activists and regulators.

By Ed Adamczyk
Facebook could face $180M fine for allegedly misleading EU
The European Commission's competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, is leading a probe of Facebook Inc., which said in 2014 it could not merge its data with that of WhatsApp, a firm it acquired. It successfully merged the data, prompting the European Commission charge Facebook with attempting to mislead it; a $180 million fine could result. Photo by Aris Oikonomou/European Pressphoto Agency

BRUSSELS, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- The European Commission charged that Facebook Inc. misled regulators in its takeover of WhatsApp, an accusation which could lead to a $180 million fine.

Facebook's $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 included assurances it could not merge WhatApp data with its other services, such as linking WhatsApp information, including phone numbers, to individual Facebook accounts. After Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram began sharing customers' data during the summer of 2016, the action generated angry responses from privacy activists and regulators, including the European Union's European Commission.

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Although the acquisition is not in jeopardy, the EU can fine California-based Facebook up to 1 percent of its global revenues, or about $180 million, for supplying "incorrect and misleading information" when it sought EU approval to take over WhatsApp. The EU probe is led by Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who said Facebook assured her in 2014 it was technically impossible to merge WhatsApp and Facebook data.

"Companies are obliged to give the commission accurate information during merger investigations. They must take this obligation seriously," Vestager said.

"These are serious allegations," commented Agustin Reyna of the non-government European Consumer Organization, or BEUC. "If Facebook provided misleading information about its ability to match Facebook and WhatsApp accounts it basically blocked the commission from checking the implications of data of this merger. This is unacceptable and sheds a bad light on the company's readiness to respect consumers' privacy."

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