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EU fines Facebook $122 million over WhatsApp data sharing

On Thursday, the European Union’s powerful antitrust chief fined the social network $122 million for giving misleading statements during the company’s $19 billion acquisition of the Internet messaging service WhatsApp in 2014. The fine — one of the largest regulatory penalties against Facebook — comes days after Dutch and French privacy watchdogs ruled that the company had broken strict data protection rules. Other European countries, notably Germany, are clamping down on social media companies, including issuing potentially hefty penalties for failing to sufficiently police hate speech and misinformation. The EU’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said that Facebook had told the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, that the social network would not combine the company’s data with that of WhatsApp, which has more than 1 billion users. The overall penalty amounted to a slap on the wrist — it pales in comparison with the tens of billions of dollars the company earns in online advertising every year, and Europe’s antitrust officials stopped short of voiding the deal completely. Facebook, experts say, is only the latest in a long line of Silicon Valley companies to face European regulatory anger, though this time, the focus is likely to center on the reams of online data gathered, including information that Facebook collects on both its users and nonusers through third-party websites. Though that is mostly for tax purposes, it gives European data protection and antitrust officials wide scope to monitor and police Facebook activities involving its more than 1.5 billion users outside North America. In the past, for instance, Facebook has been forced to alter its privacy settings for all of its users worldwide after European privacy campaigners brought legal challenges to how the social network collected and used people’s data. While Facebook has come under scrutiny in the United States for allowing fake news to spread on its network, including before the U.S. presidential election in November, federal lawmakers and policymakers have so far used a relatively light touch with the social network. “U.S. antitrust law has failed to keep up with the digital economy and the emergence of monopoly services,” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group in Washington, said in an email.

Article by By Mark Scott (c) Business and Technology News - Read full story here.