Facebook purchase of Kustomer may face EU antitrust scrutiny

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Facebook’s acquisition of customer service startup Kustomer may be subjected to European Union antitrust scrutiny after Austria asked EU enforcers to take over the task, the European Commission said on Tuesday.

The move comes as the EU competition regulator girds up to vet more tech, pharma and biotech startup deals, sending a warning to tech giants criticised by some for so-called killer acquisitions where they buy nascent rivals with the goal of shutting them down.

The world’s largest social network announced the deal in November, which could help it to scale up its instant messaging app WhatsApp, which has seen usage jumped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facebook sought approval for the deal from the Austrian competition agency on March 31.

“We can confirm that we have received a request for referral from Austria,” a Commission spokeswoman said.

Other national watchdogs have 15 working days to inform the EU competition enforcer whether they too want it to review the deal.

“Following the expiry of the deadline for other Member States to join the referral, the Commission will have 10 working days to decide whether to accept or reject the referral,” the spokeswoman said.

Facebook said the deal would bring more innovation to businesses and consumers in a dynamic and competitive space.

“We look forward to demonstrating to regulators that Facebook and Kustomer would offer more choices and better services through this pro-competitive deal,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Exclusive: UK refers Facebook acquisition of Giphy for in-depth probe

(Reuters) – Britain on Thursday referred Facebook Inc’s acquisition of GIF website Giphy for an in-depth probe after the U.S. social media giant told the country’s competition watchdog it would not be offering any undertakings to address its concerns.

The regulator last week gave Facebook and Giphy five working days to offer proposals to address its concerns over their merger deal, which could affect digital advertising and the supply of animated images.

Facebook denies fueling polarization, launches tools to control feed

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc will let users customize their feed and give them control over who can comment on their public posts, the social media giant said on Wednesday.

The company will also offer a Feed Filter Bar that would allow users to switch between algorithmic ranking of their feed or show content in the order it was posted.

The changes come as the world’s largest social network has been under fire for amplifying hate speech and misinformation globally across its platforms.

Users can manage the comments for any public post by choosing from options such as anyone who can view the post can comment or only people and pages they tag, Facebook said here in a blog post.

Separately, Nick Clegg, vice president of Global Affairs at Facebook, claimed in a Medium post on Wednesday that the company’s algorithms do not lead to polarization.

“The reality is, it’s not in Facebook’s interest — financially or reputationally — to continually turn up the temperature and push users towards ever more extreme content,” Clegg said.

He also noted that majority of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising, and advertisers would not want their brands and products displayed right next to “extreme or hateful content.”

Central bank approves WhatsApp e-cash payments – Brazil

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s central bank on Tuesday cleared the way for Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service to let its users send each other funds using the Visa Inc and Mastercard card networks, according to a statement.

The central bank had initially suspended WhatsApp’s bid to allow users to send money via chats when it was first proposed last June, saying it could damage Brazil’s existing payments system in terms of competition, efficiency and data privacy.

“(We) are making the final preparations to have payments on WhatsApp available in Brazil as soon as possible,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement. The messaging platform has over 120 million users in Brazil.

Still, WhatsApp is only allowed to do peer-to-peer payments, not involving merchants. The regulatory approval also comes months after the central bank launched its own instant payments system in November, called Pix, which has since been widely adopted.