In a recent interview Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, said he was used by Facebook, which bought the messaging app in 2014 for USD 19 billion, to pass the acquisition past EU regulators.
At the time of the purchase, EU regulators were concerned that the move might be followed by another that made it possible for Facebook to link the Facebook and WhatsApp accounts of users. The social media platform subsequently achieved that.
According to Acton, even before the WhatsApp acquisition had been cleared, he was coached by Facebook to persuade European regulators it would be “really difficult” to combine WhatsApp and Facebook user data. “I was coached to explain that it would be really difficult to merge or blend data between the two systems,” Acton said.
Two years later, Facebook achieved just that. The move attracted a hefty fine of USD 122 million from the European Commission for providing incorrect or misleading info on the original filing. To this, Facebook answered by blaming its stance on unintentional ‘errors.’
According to Acton, after the acquisition had been cleared, he learned that there were indeed “plans and technologies to blend data” between Facebook and WhatsApp by means of using the 128-bit string of numbers assigned to each phone or phone number matching.
“I think everyone was gambling because they thought that the EU might have forgotten because enough time had passed,” Acton said.
Facebook’s linking of WhatsApp and Facebook accounts for ad targeting purposes is suspended in Europe due to regulations.