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    'Serious Allegations': EU Unfriends Facebook Over 'Misleading' Merger Claims

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    The European Commission has filed charges against Facebook for providing "misleading" information during its investigation of the social network's purchase of WhatsApp in 2014 - and a consumer advocacy group has told Sputnik the allegations are "extremely serious."

    The charges relate to claims made by Facebook during the investigation that users would not be able to link their Facebook and WhatsApp accounts and message across both platforms once the latter had been acquired, and that it was not technically possible in any event.

    However, in a WhatsApp privacy policy update published in August 2016, the ability of users to automatically match WhatsApp and Facebook accounts was announced.

    The Commission charges that account linking was very much planned, and possible, when Facebook made the claim; Facebook has until January 31, 2017 to respond. If the charge is admitted, the Commission could impose a fine of up to 1 percent of Facebook's turnover, which was US$18 billion in 2015.

    A spokesperson for EU consumer advocacy group BEUC said the allegations were "extremely serious."

    "If Facebook provided misleading information about matching accounts, it blocked the Commission from investigating the data implications of the merger. This is unacceptable, and sheds a bad light on the company's respect for consumer privacy," a BEUC spokesperson told Sputnik.

    "We have been asking for years that the massive amounts of data such companies gather need to be taken into account in competition cases. Mergers might be good for business but consumers’ privacy should not be at the losing end," the spokesperson added.

    Commenting, German Christian Social Union MEP Markus Ferber, said he welcomed the charge, but the Commission's investigation showed their methods needed to be modernized.

    "If Facebook really kept back information with regards to its data synchronization plans, this must have noticeable consequences. However, it was a big mistake by the Commission to only look at figures such as profits and sales, and ignore the key role of data in the digital economy. That proves that the instruments used by competition authorities need to be updated for the 21st century," Ferber said.

    In a statement, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, said companies are obliged to give the Commission accurate information during merger investigations, and must take this obligation seriously.

    As this is a procedural case, the 2014 purchase approval decision will not be revaluated and the wider competition investigation will not be reopened — the US$22 billion merger will still stand.

    A spokesperson for Facebook told Sputnik the company respected the Commission's process and are confident a full review of the facts will confirm Facebook acted in good faith:

    "We've consistently provided accurate information about our technical capabilities and plans. 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."

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    Tags:
    fines, European consumers, data, investigation, charges, privacy, European Commission, WhatsApp, Facebook, Margrethe Vestager, Europe
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