Facebook has been fined $122 million by the European Union’s (EU) antitrust regulator for providing misleading information during its 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp.
According to a statement, the fine is one of the largest the company has had to pay to any government. European regulators said that Facebook was not honest about its ability to identify users that had both Facebook and WhatsApp accounts and link those accounts.
At the time of the merger review, regulators were particularly concerned that WhatsApp users would have their information shared with Facebook without their consent.
"When Facebook notified the commission on the acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, it informed the Commission that it would be unable to establish reliable automated matching between Facebook users' accounts and WhatsApp users' accounts," regulators said.
The regulators further said that Facebook staff knew that matching accounts was technically possible at the time of the review.
For its part, Facebook maintains that it did not mean to mislead regulators.
"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,” Facebook said in an official company blog post.
Facebook's statement indicates that “the decision does not affect the relationship between WhatsApp and Facebook. The commission has said that the information in misleading statements was not a major factor into its decision to approve the merger”.
"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," said Magrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, in a statement.
"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," she said.