The European Commission has ruled that Facebook intentionally misled officials during its takeover of WhatsApp in 2014. Specifically it was misleading about its ability to utilise data, and is receiving a fine of €110 million (£93.8 million).
During the takeover Facebook claimed it wouldn't be able to reliably automate the sharing of data between WhatsApp and Facebook. This case was opened in December 2016, three months after Facebook decided it could link WhatsApp numbers to Facebook after all.
The Commission has found that Facebook lied on at least two occasions, believing that Facebook employees "were aware of the user matching possibility" but were concerned that merger regulations would lead to the Commission scrutinising its data-handling processes. It stated that the technical possibility to match accounts from each service was possible in 2014, so Facebook is, at the very least, guilty of negligence.
Under EU rules the Commission can impose fines of up to one per cent of a company's aggregate turnover. In this case, however, Facebook admitted its guilt, waived its rights to an oral hearing and to access the case details, reportedly assisting officials whenever it could.
Because of these factors, and the fact the Commission was able to conduct its investigation "more efficiently", it was decided that a €110 million was "both proportionate and deterrent."
Facebook issued the following statement regarding the Commission's ruling:
We've acted in good faith since our very first interactions with the Commission and we've sought to provide accurate information at every turn. 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. Today's announcement brings this matter to a close.
The social network has also halted WhatsApp data sharing across Europe, after coming under the scrutiny of privacy regulators. It's pledged to make any data harvesting an opt-in arrangement.