EU Watchdog Probes Facebook Over WhatsApp Merger

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BRUSSELS (CBSMiami/AP) — The European Union’s merger watchdog is looking into whether Facebook gave misleading information about its takeover of messaging service WhatsApp.

The EU’s executive body on Tuesday gave Facebook until Jan. 31st to answer a “statement of objections” about merger information the social media giant gave the Commission two years ago.

The European Commission is concerned that Facebook can match its users’ accounts with WhatsApp user accounts. The company said in 2014 that it could not do this. But Facebook’s August terms of service and privacy update suggest it can, according to the Commission.

“The Commission’s preliminary view is that Facebook gave us incorrect or misleading information during the investigation into its acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook now has the opportunity to respond,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

Facebook could face fines of up to 1 percent of its turnover if those suspicions are confirmed.

In a statement, Facebook said it respects the Commissioner’s process and is “confident that a full review of the facts will confirm Facebook has acted in good faith.”

“We’ve consistently provided accurate information about our technical capabilities and plans, including in submissions about the WhatsApp acquisition and in voluntary briefings before WhatsApp’s privacy policy update this year,” Facebook said. “We’re pleased that the Commission stands by its clearance decision, and we will continue to cooperate and share information officials need to resolve their questions.”

The August update could allow a link-up between WhatsApp phone numbers and Facebook user identities, which could help Facebook offer better “friend” suggestions or display more relevant ads on the Facebook page of a WhatsApp user.

“Companies are obliged to give the Commission accurate information during merger investigations. They must take this obligation seriously,” Vestager warned.

Such EU probes do not imply guilt, but they give companies the chance to examine relevant documents, reply in writing, or request an oral hearing.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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