EU questions Facebook competitors over WhatsApp deal

The European Commission sent questionnaires to companies, probing potential effects of the acquisition

Several Facebook and WhatsApp competitors were sent questionnaires by the European Commission asking them about the effect that the US$19 billion deal between the companies could have on competition, people familiar with the matter have confirmed.

Companies that were sent the questionnaire were given six days to answer the questions and were asked to respond by July 2, one person said.

Facebook's pending acquisition of messaging app WhatsApp has reportedly raised concerns with European telecommunications providers, among other companies, that are worried that the deal will allow Facebook to seize a dominant market position in instant messaging. WhatsApp said in April that it had passed the 500,000 user mark.

Before companies formally notify the Commission of a transaction, the parties can approach the Commission on how best to prepare their notification.

Facebook reportedly requested that the Commission review its pending WhatsApp acquisition in May. Companies can ask for an antitrust review of a deal to avoid several parallel reviews in member EU states.

The Commission can also send questionnaires to market participants in order to gather data about the markets concerned, including market share. This is especially done in markets where this data is not readily available or volatile.

Among other issues, the questionnaires probed how Facebook rivals manage and use personal data, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday.

The Commission, the EU's antitrust authority, declined to comment on the matter. Facebook, which announced its intent to acquire WhatApps in February, also declined to comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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