Martin Flanagan: Europe unfriends Facebook over WhatsApp

Facebook has had its status updated. And it's not pretty.

Facebook faces a hefty fine over information regarding its WhatsApp acquisition. Picture: Johnston Press
Facebook faces a hefty fine over information regarding its WhatsApp acquisition. Picture: Johnston Press

The exponentially expanding electronic version of faux-bashful Round Robin letters faces being hit with fines after the European Commission (EC) accused it of providing “incorrect or misleading” information regarding its $19 billion (£15.3bn) takeover of messaging service WhatsApp.

The EC says that, during the 2014 probe into the US social network’s acquisition of WhatsApp, Facebook inaccurately claimed that it would be unable to combine user data between the two companies’ accounts, which could obviously be commercially useful if also ethically unappealing.

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But the commission says the “technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook users’ IDs with WhatsApp users’ IDs already existed in 2014”. OMG, as the millennial generation might perfunctorily text.

Facebook has up to 31 January to message back (sorry, respond), and if the EC is minded it could slap a fine of up to 1 per cent of Facebook’s $14.5bn revenues – or $145 million – on the company.

Some perspective, though. Crucially, the EC says that despite its concerns about process, its approval of the WhatsApp merger remains intact. And Facebook’s revenues are of a scale that any fine would be a public relations black eye but financially a drop in the bucket.

Even so, perhaps more significant is the wider picture where the EC in a major way and the UK less flamboyantly have been clamping down on the financial affairs and behaviour of high-profile US tech firms.

Others to come under the EC’s increasingly basilisk stare include Apple, Amazon and Google. It almost warms the cockles of one’s latest app.

Not so Uber alles

Sticking with new technology, taxi-hailing app Uber is reportedly heading for an $800m loss this year, despite revenue set to reach more than $5.5bn. It will bring a smile to the faces of our perennially cheerful black cab drivers,

As they say in the trade, it is revenue for show, but always earnings for dough. Uber looked set to take over the highway. But there has been an industry and municipal pushback that has taken it aback. It will be interesting to see where the business rolls to from here.