Facebook fined €110m over WhatsApp data sharing claims

Facebook website on a computer screen

Facebook has been fined 110 million by the European Commission for "misleading information" during an investigation into its acquisition of WhatsApp - its second European fine in as many days.

Back in 2014, Facebook bought the messaging service, prompting the EC to investigate whether the deal should be allowed, which it eventually approved.

At the time, Facebook repeatedly told the EC that it would not be able to automatically link Facebook users' accounts with their WhatsApp profiles. Two years later, however, Facebook updated its terms of service and privacy policy suggesting it was indeed popssible to do so.

The EC questioned whether that had always been the plan and investigated. "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 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," said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy. "The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers' effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts."

The EC noted that the decision doesn't impact the approval of the WhatsApp acquisition, saying even if Facebook had admitted user matching was possible, it wouldn't have halted the deal. However, it noted the fine was the first for provision of incorrect or misleading facts since new rules came into play in 2004. The fine also isn't related to any looming data protection challenges.

The Commission said it can fine up to 1% of the aggregated turnover of a company - the 110 million charge is less than half of the maximum. It comes a day after French data authorities slapped Facebook with a 150,000 fine for tracking users without consent.