A few months after receiving approval from US regulators, Facebook's $19-billion acquisition of WhatsApp has received a thumbs up from European Union regulators, who approved the deal unconditionally last week.
The European Commission, which is EU’s central antitrust authority, found that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are not close competitors. "Despite the fact that Facebook Messenger is a standalone app, the user experience is specific given its integration with the Facebook social network", the commission said, adding that users seem to use the two apps in different ways and many of them use the two apps on the same mobile handset.
The commission also added that although Messenger and WhatsApp are two of the most popular apps, the deal would not hamper competition, thanks to a "wide choice" of consumer communications apps on the market, including Line, Viber, iMessage, Telegram, WeChat, and Google Hangouts.
The deal was opposed by European telecom operators, who argued that it would give Facebook excessive market power and control over users’ data, and would also harm their messaging and voice businesses.
An interesting point worth noting is that unlike the US antitrust authorities, the approval from the European Commission came with no strings attached. When the FTC approved the deal in April this year, it also issued a letter to Facebook and WhatsApp, warning both companies that they will need to abide by the privacy promises they've made to consumers or face legal consequences.
"WhatsApp has made a number of promises about the limited nature of the data it collects, maintains, and shares with third parties - promises that exceed the protections currently promised to Facebook users", wrote Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC. "Further, if the acquisition is completed and WhatsApp fails to honor these promises, both companies could be in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and, potentially, the FTC's order against Facebook".
European regulators were the final hurdle for the deal and Facebook is now the legal owner of WhatsApp, following a filing made with the SEC today.