Facebook provided “misleading information” on how it would be able to use customer data during its proposed acquisition of WhatsApp, the European Commission said today.
The accusation surrounds Facebook’s submission to the Commission during the proposed takeover in 2014, in which the company outlined it would be unable to establish automated matching between user IDs on its social media platform with those on WhatsApp.
In today’s statement, the EC highlights a recent update to WhatsApp terms and conditions which opened-up the possibility of linking WhatsApp phone numbers with Facebook user IDs. The EC added it takes the “preliminary view” the technology to enable this was already available when Facebook made its statement in 2014.
The EC stated: “Contrary to Facebook’s statements and reply during the merger review, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook users’ IDs with WhatsApp users’ IDs already existed in 2014.
“At this stage, the Commission therefore has concerns that Facebook intentionally, or negligently, submitted incorrect or misleading information to the Commission, in breach of its obligations under the EU Merger Regulation.”
Facebook has until 31 January to respond to the EC.
The EC’s accusations come days after EU advisory group The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party (WP29) raised further doubts on WhatsApp’s claim to have paused data sharing within the EU.
In a letter to the company last week, the WP29 demanded “precise clarification” on how WhatsApp shares customer data within the region, adding it remains concerned “data exchange does still take place between WhatsApp and Facebook for purposes other than improving Facebook products and advertising experiences.”
The company in November said it paused data sharing on EU customers. In response, the working group requested further confirmation on this point and requested “comprehensive information” on how the company proposes using customer data going forward.
The WP29 launched an investigation into Facebook’s privacy policies in October following a change to the IM platform’s policies in August, which the advisory group believed could lead to the sharing of WhatsApp data including phone numbers to other companies within the Facebook group.