Record Breaking Facebook Fine Over WhatsApp Latest in EU Crackdown on US Tech



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A world without the omnipresence of Facebook — one of the largest technology companies in the world — may be hard to imagine now, especially for millennials.

But Facebook has taken a significant blow from the EU’s top antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager on Thursday 18th May. The Danish politician, who is currently serving as the European Commissioner for Competition said that Facebook misled EU regulators over it’s intentions for it’s 2014 takeover of WhatsApp.

Facebook had initially said it wasn’t able to link user accounts, but subsequently offered the option in an update. The change to its privacy policy sparked resistance from European data protection activists. The new, previously undisclosed, terms of service could allow Facebook to gain an unfair advantage over rivals, through improved access to more data to help make online advertising more profitable.

“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. The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers’ effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts,” EU Commissioner Vestager said.

It’s an extraordinarily costly case for Facebook — €110-million (US$122.5 million) to be exact.

The European Commission competition policy spokesperson Ricardo Cardoso said the fine was record breaker.

“The fine is the highest fine we have ever imposed for a procedural infringement in a merger case,” said Cardoso. “In that case we have to ensure that fine is proportionate and we believe that considering all elements in the fine calculation, including the deterrence effect, the fine imposed on Facebook of 110 million euros ($122 million) is indeed proportionate in light of Facebook’s turnover,” he added

In a statement, Facebook said the errors were not intentional.

“Today’s announcement brings this matter to a close,” Facebook said.

However, it’s the latest on a series of negative PR stories for Facebook.

Thursday’s fine announcement comes just a day after Facebook was found guilty in France and the Netherlands of tracking users’ data without consumer consent.

Such data included user’s sexual preferences and was shared with websites other than Facebook, also without their knowledge.

Facebook’s regulatory woes in the EU have been shared to some extent by other US technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft.

All have become targets of long antitrust investigations by the EU. Some American tech executives have alleged that Europe has an anti-American bias, which EU officials deny.

Meanwhile, Facebook is facing further legal action in at least three other EU countries over data privacy concerns, in Belgium, Germany and Spain.