WhatsApp Purchase To Face Brief European Scrutiny

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp will be subject to a quick review by European regulators

Facebook has been reassured that its acquisition of the popular mobile instant messaging app, WhatsApp, will only be subjected to a quick review by European antitrust authorities.

It comes after privacy advocates in March called for an official investigation into the purchase.

“Not Difficult”

The privacy groups were concerned about what Facebook plans to do with WhatsApp’s 450 million users – especially considering WhatsApp’s strict ban on advertising. In the United States, an official compliant was filed with the Federal Trade Commission by two privacy groups, namely the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy.

But on this side of the Atlantic, European regulators seem to be more philosophical about the deal.

“The final decision will not take a long time,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Bloomberg TV in an interview in Cernobbio, Italy. “It’s not the most difficult merger that we have dealt with.”

But Almunia also admitted that the EU merger investigation won’t deal with any privacy concerns about the deal.

While privacy “is a very important issue,” it is not dealt with by antitrust or merger rules in the EU, he reportedly said.

An initial EU ruling is expected on 3 October, when the deal will either be cleared or face an extended four month antitrust probe.

jan koum whatsappCurious Fit?

Facebook’s $19 billion (£11.4bn) acquisition of WhatsApp in February this year certainly raised a few eyebrows.

WhatsApp CEO and co-founder for example Jan Koum was proud of his firm’s anti-advertising policy and he had gone on record as stating that phones were personal to people, and that it would be wrong to intrude on people’s conversations.

This is in marked contrast to Facebook’s approach, which is seeking to ramp up its efforts to monetise its increasingly mobile user base (mostly by mobile advertising).

Mark Zuckerberg has for the moment promised that WhatsApp will remain autonomous, but this has not stopped concerns that adverts could eventually appeared in the WhatsApp app in the future.

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