Mergers: Commission approves acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook

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The European Commission has authorised, under the EU Merger Regulation, the proposed acquisition of WhatsApp Inc. by Facebook, Inc., both of the United States. Facebook (via Facebook Messenger) and WhatsApp both offer applications for smartphones (so-called “apps”) which allow consumers to communicate by sending text, photo, voice and video messages. The Commission found that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are not close competitors and that consumers would continue to have a wide choice of alternative consumer communications apps after the transaction. Although consumer communications apps are characterised by network effects, the investigation showed that the merged entity would continue to face sufficient competition after the merger.  Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, said: “Consumer communications apps keep European citizens connected and are becoming increasingly popular. While Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are two of the most popular apps, most people use more than one communications app. We have carefully reviewed this proposed acquisition and come to the conclusion that it would not hamper competition in this dynamic and growing market. Consumers will continue to have a wide choice of consumer communications apps.”  The Commission’s investigation focused on three areas: (i) consumer communications services, (ii) social networking services, and (iii) online advertising services.  As regards consumer communications services, the Commission focussed its assessment on apps for smartphones, as WhatsApp is not available for other devices. The Commission found that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are not close competitors. Indeed, despite the fact that Facebook Messenger is a standalone app, the user experience is specific given its integration with the Facebook social network. For WhatsApp, access to the service is provided through phone numbers while for Facebook Messenger, a Facebook profile is required. Users seem to use the two apps in different ways and many of them use the two apps simultaneously on the same mobile handset. Furthermore, this is a very dynamic market with several competing apps available on the market, such as Line, Viber, iMessage, Telegram, WeChat and Google Hangouts. Here to read more.

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