Facebook has been accused by the European Commission of misleading it during its investigation of Facebook's 2014 takeover of WhatsApp.
The charges will not have an affect on the approval of the $22bn merger and is being treated completely separately to other European cases against Facebook, but could lead to Facebook being fined up to 1% of its global turnover in 2014 when the merger was approved, which was greater than $10bn for the first time. Facebook now must respond to the commission's charges and then await a final decision by the competition authority.
"In today's Statement of Objections, the Commission takes the preliminary view that, contrary to Facebook's statements and reply during the merger review, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook users' IDs with WhatsApp users' IDs already existed in 2014", it said.
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The Commission, the EU's merger and anti-trust watchdog, is concerned that Facebook can match its users' accounts with WhatsApp user accounts. The Commission has also been investigating Google since early 2015, and has since threatened to fine the company 10% of its annual revenue, or $7.4 billion. The Hamburg data protection authority ordered Facebook to stop collecting WhatsApp data (paywall) in September.
Facebook maintains it gave the commission accurate information about its technical abilities all along.
"Companies are obliged to give the Commission accurate information during merger investigations", she said. 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.
A Facebook spokesperson said the company was pleased that the EC stands by its clearance of the company's WhatsApp acquisition and would continue to co-operate with regulators to resolve their complaints.