Facebook asks European watchdogs to look into WhatsApp deal

Facebook wants European competition watchdogs to investigate its $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in a bid to head off future antitrust problems.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg wants to connect the entire planet. James Martin/CNET

Facebook has asked to have its $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp checked out by business authorities in Europe, in a bid to head off further investigations of the deal.

The social network has volunteered to the European Commission, the EU's central antitrust authority, according to the Wall Street Journal. By going straight to the central European watchdog and asking to have the deal explored -- and hopefully signed off -- the folks at Facebook are hoping to head off investigations in individual countries. That could save Zuckerberg's legal bods a lot of palaver in the long run.

Mark Zuckerberg talks Whatsapp, Facebook, and Internet.org (pictures)

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Facebook is forking out the head-spinning amount of money -- roughly 10 percent of the company's market value -- to buy the hugely popular messaging app and capture a huge slice of the messaging market, especially in emerging markets.

Concerns have been raised under laws preventing companies from unfairly dominating markets, known as competition law in Europe or antitrust in the US. European telecoms companies are alarmed by the deal, as they believe it will give Facebook too strong a grasp on instant messaging, which provides a cheap or often free alternative to SMS text messages and MMS picture messages.

Last year, the volume of texts sent in the UK fell for the first time ever, so with income squeezed by regulatory clampdown on call fees and roaming charges, it's no wonder telecoms companies are increasingly defensive of revenue streams.

Privacy groups have also registered concerns over the deal. But the acquisition has already been approved by the US Federal Trade Commission.

With half a billion users and 64 billion messages sent in a day, WhatsApp is the most high-profile instant messaging app in this burgeoning market. But it's far from the only popular app: WeChat claims 396M active users, Samsung's ChatON topped 100 million last year, and Facebook's own Messenger has 200M users.