Yesterday, officials from the European Union’s antitrust regulatory body fined Facebook $120 million for providing misleading information concerning the 2014 deal which saw it spend $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp messaging service. The fine stands as one of the most significant regulatory penalties that has ever been posed against Facebook. Other European nations including Germany are currently clamping down on social media firms including providing potentially heavy penalties for not controlling the levels of police hate speech as well as misinformation. It was deemed a proportionate and deterrent fine as the watchdog claimed Facebook had stated that it was not able to automatically match user accounts on the namesake platform and WhatsApp but a few years later it launched a service which did exactly the same thing. Facebook announced it would start to share WhatsApp data with the rest of the firm. This would in turn allow it to gain an unfair advantage considering rivals by providing access to larger amounts of data to assist support the online advertising business.
Facebook tried to save face claiming that it had originally acted in good faith in its deliberations with the antitrust officials and that it was not going to appeal the penalty. It said in a statement, “The errors we made in our 2014 filings were not intentional.” Well at least, the commission confirmed it would not impact on the results of the merger review so Facebook only lost some money and hardly made a dent in its financial status for the quarter from the global view. It pales when compared to the billions the form earns in online advertising every year and the antitrust officials did not void the deal.
European regulatory bias on American firms
The fine is a sign European antitrust officials are increasing the level of scrutiny of Facebook and other leading tech firms in the market. The $120 million fine is the third one in the region this week after regulator officials posted charges for privacy violations and data protection respectively. A number of privacy watchdogs have also criticized the social network and tried to convince, founder of WhatsApp, Jan Koum to suspend sharing user data with the company until the legal issues are put to bed. Even though Facebook has stopped collecting the subsidiary user data for the purposes of advertising across Europe, a number of regulators in Spain, Belgium, Germany and Netherlands have continued investigations on its other activities pertaining to user information. Especially the manner it tracks users across the web without providing sufficient warnings to the subscribers in the first place.
This may have the makings of a witch-hunt for the social media platform but for thelast two decades, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon have been targets for extensive antitrust investigations by European regulators. As a result, it has often led to allegations by tech companies that the region has a lot of anti-American sentiment and bias during investigations which may be true, but is usually denied by European policymakers. Facebook is just another victim in the long line of Silicon Valley giants that have become subject to the wrath of the European regulators.