Lessons to be learned from the WhatsApp agreement on Facebook, says French watchdog

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PARIS (Reuters) – The $ 22 billion purchase of WhatsApp on Facebook six years ago should have been blocked, the head of France's antitrust body, which is expected to help revise EU rules, told Reuters.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: The head of France's competition authority, Isabelle de Silva, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Paris, France, on January 16, 2020. REUTERS / Charles Platiau

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"Clearly, deals like the Facebook / WhatsApp merger probably shouldn't have been allowed," said Isabelle de Silva in an interview.

"One of the things that we see more clearly now than a few years ago is how the ability to collect and explore data is a huge advantage," she said.

"This is what allows players like Facebook and Google to create their value today."

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A Facebook spokesman did not immediately comment.

With the creation of a new European Commission, the Brussels antitrust authorities are preparing for an in-depth review of EU competition rules.

A focus will be globalization and digitalization, trends that have spurred the success of people like Alphabet, Facebook, Google and Amazon.

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French President Emmanuel Macron's government has been at the forefront of European efforts to increase scrutiny and taxes on digital platforms.

France's antitrust agency, which recently fined the Google search engine 150 million euros ($ 167 million) for opaque advertising rules, will participate in the regulatory review led by Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

De Silva also recently created a dedicated digital unit within the watchdog, following the steps of the US Federal Trade Commission.

"What makes Facebook successful today is not only the fact that it bought WhatsApp and Instagram … but it was also able to aggregate the communities of these users, merging the three communities that were previously separated," she said.

European companies face growing dominance of American and Chinese companies in social media, online research and e-commerce.

But De Silva said he was not calling for the separation of the largest technology companies in the United States.

Instead, she said there was a need for stricter controls over the big tech companies that consume innovative startups.

"Being dominant is not in itself illegal," said Silva. "I find it questionable that an already dominant company can acquire all companies in its ecosystem and that no rival can emerge."

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; edition by Jason Neely

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