Facebook could be in for major sanctions following a ruling by one of Europe’s top governing bodies.
The social network has been charged by the European Commission (EC) over claims it provided misleading information concerning its billion-dollar takeover of chat service WhatsApp back in 2014.
Facebook could now be facing a huge fine if it is found to have broken EC rules.
However this meant that the company reneged on an earlier promise made to users when it was acquired by the social network, triggering investigations by a number of EU data protection authorities.
The Commission said Facebook had indicated in its notification of the planned acquisition that it would be, “unable reliably to match the two companies' user accounts."
"In today's Statement of Objections, the Commission takes the preliminary view that, 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," it said.
Facebook could now be liable to a fine of one per cent of its turnover, which could run to millions of dollars.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of the EC’s competition policy, said that, "Companies are obliged to give the Commission accurate information during merger investigations. They must take this obligation seriously.
“Our timely and effective review of mergers depends on the accuracy of the information provided by the companies involved. In this specific case, the Commission's preliminary view is that Facebook gave us incorrect or misleading information during the investigation into its acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook now has the opportunity to respond."
Facebook has until January 31st to respond, or it ca appeal to the European Court of Justice to overturn the decision.
Facebook founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, center, rings the opening bell of the Nasdaq stock market, Friday, May 18, 201
A Facebook spokeswoman said, ”We respect the Commission's process and are confident that a full review of the facts will confirm Facebook has acted in good faith.”
The company will continue to cooperate and give the information officials need to resolve their questions, she added.
Facebook becomes the latest Silicon Valley target of EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, who has demanded Apple pay back $14 billion in taxes to Ireland and hit Google with two market abuse investigations.