Facebook Wins Unconditional EU Approval to Buy WhatsApp

Facebook Inc. won European Union antitrust approval to buy messaging service WhatsApp Inc. for about $19 billion, its biggest acquisition to date.

The European Commission cleared the deal without seeking any concessions, saying a careful review showed the two businesses aren’t close competitors and consumers will continue to have a wide choice of communications apps.

“While Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are two of the most popular apps, most people use more than one,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in an e-mailed statement. The deal “would not hamper competition in this dynamic and growing market.”

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s 13th-richest person according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has made ads on smartphones and tablets Facebook’s core business and is building on that foundation to increase the company’s reach across wireless devices.

Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, said it was pleased to receive clearance from the EU and looked forward to closing the acquisition, according to an e-mailed statement.

While some companies told the EU that WhatsApp was a rival social network to Facebook, the EU said they were “if anything, distant competitors in this area.” Even if Facebook were to integrate WhatsApp into its social-networking service, the net gain in terms of users would be limited since the two companies’ user bases overlap to a significant extent, the EU said.

Advertising Purposes

Any Facebook move to introduce advertising to WhatsApp wouldn’t raise competition concerns because there are alternative providers and Facebook doesn’t exclusively control the large amount of Internet user data that’s valuable for advertising purposes, the EU said.

The EU review didn’t cover privacy-related concerns, it said.

Zuckerberg has also been making multibillion-dollar acquisitions to diversify the company. Aside from WhatsApp, the company in July completed the purchase of Oculus VR Inc. for about $2 billion. Oculus makes a virtual-reality headset that Zuckerberg has said will be a major communication device after mobile phones.