In a press release published Thursday, the Commission said that the social media company misinformed European regulators when it said that it would be unable to link the profiles of users on WhatsApp and Facebook. In 2016, however, WhatsApp announced that it would begin sharing some user data, including phone numbers, with Facebook. In its decision, the Commission said that “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 decision announced today will not have any impact on the Commission’s decision to authorize the acquisition, and it is not related to separate data protection investigations that are currently underway, the EC said in its press release. Germany ordered Facebook to stop collecting data from WhatsApp users in September 2016, and Facebook agreed to suspend data collection on UK WhatsApp users in November of that year. This week, WhatsApp was fined €3 million by Italian antitrust authorities for “inducing” users to share data with Facebook. The EC announced its investigation in December 2016.
"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,” Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “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."
In a statement published to its website Thursday, Facebook said it “acted in good faith” during its interactions with the European Commission, and that it “sought to provide accurate information at every turn.” The social network acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for $22 billion.
“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,” the statement reads. “Today’s announcement brings this matter to a close.”