EU to Fine Facebook Over WhatsApp Acquisition -- Update

By Natalia Drozdiak Features Dow Jones Newswires

The European Union's antitrust watchdog is poised to fine Facebook Inc. on Thursday for giving "incorrect or misleading information" to investigators who were probing its purchase of chat app WhatsApp in 2014, according to people familiar with the matter.

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The European Commission's fine is expected to be "significant" to set an example for other companies registering their mergers for review with EU authorities, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

The commission could fine the company up to 1% of its world-wide revenue. That could work out to as much as $276 million based on Facebook's 2016 revenue.

The commission opened the formal investigation into the merger last December, saying it suspects Facebook inaccurately claimed during the 2014 takeover that it was unable to reliably match user accounts between Facebook and WhatsApp -- something the company started doing two years later when it began combining user data across the services.

The EU's decision wouldn't reverse the merger or force fundamental changes to the way Facebook operates, but it would be the second fine against the company to come from a European authority in a single week. France's privacy watchdog on Tuesday fined the company EUR150,000 ($166,245), alleging its privacy policy breaches French law.

The commission's decision would come after the EU's antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager in March told The Wall Street Journal that in addition to the Facebook merger, the regulator was taking a second look at a handful of past deals on suspicions companies misled investigators in securing approval. Ms. Vestager said those reviews involve companies from very different industries and that they hadn't yet decided whether to file formal charges in those cases.

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The FT earlier reported the plans by the commission to fine Facebook on Thursday.

Write to Natalia Drozdiak at natalia.drozdiak@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 17, 2017 15:32 ET (19:32 GMT)