The Federal Trade Commission sued Facebook, alleging that the company is illegally maintaining its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anticompetitive conduct. Following a lengthy investigation in cooperation with a coalition of the attorney general of 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, the complaint alleges that Facebook has engaged in a systematic strategy—including its 2012 acquisition of up-and-coming rival Instagram, its 2014 acquisition of the mobile messaging app WhatsApp, and the imposition of anti-competitive conditions on software developers—to eliminate threats to its monopoly. This course of conduct harms competition leaves consumers with few choices for personal social networking and deprives advertisers of the benefits of competition.
The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that could, among other things: require divestitures of assets, including Instagram and WhatsApp; prohibit Facebook from imposing anticompetitive conditions on software developers and require Facebook to seek prior notice and approval for future mergers and acquisitions.
“Personal social networking is central to the lives of millions of Americans,” said Ian Conner, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. “Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition. Our aim is to roll back Facebook’s anticompetitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, Facebook is the world’s dominant personal social networking service and has monopoly power in a market for personal social networking services. This unmatched position has provided Facebook with staggering profits. Last year alone, Facebook generated revenues of more than $70 billion and profits of more than $18.5 billion.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Facebook targeted potential competitive threats to its dominance. Instagram, a rapidly growing startup, emerged at a critical time in personal social networking competition, when users of personal social networking services were migrating from desktop computers to smartphones, and when consumers were increasingly embracing photo-sharing. The complaint alleges that Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, quickly recognized that Instagram was a vibrant and innovative personal social network and an existential threat to Facebook’s monopoly power.
The complaint alleges that Facebook has enforced these policies by cutting off API access to blunt perceived competitive threats from rival personal social networking services, mobile messaging apps, and other apps with social functionalities. For example, in 2013, Twitter launched the app Vine, which allowed users to shoot and share short video segments. In response, according to the complaint, Facebook shut down the API that would have allowed Vine to access friends via Facebook.
The lawsuit follows an investigation by the FTC’s Technology Enforcement Division, whose staff cooperated closely with a coalition of attorneys general, under the coordination of the New York State Office of the Attorney General. Participating Attorneys General include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
Source: Federal Trade Commission