FTC Accuses Facebook of Social Media Monopoly, Calls for Divestiture of Instagram and WhatsApp

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The United States Federal Trade Commission today teamed up 46 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam to sue Facebook for maintaining an illegal social networking monopoly through years of anticompetitive conduct.

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Facebook is accused of engaging in a “systematic strategy” to eliminate threats to its monopoly, which included the 2012 acquisition of Instagram and the 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook’s actions have harmed competition, left consumers with few choices for personal social networking, and deprived advertisers of the benefits of competition.

The FTC is aiming for a permanent injunction that would require the divestitures of assets that include Instagram and WhatsApp, which would mean Facebook would be forced to sell the two social networks. Facebook would also be prohibited from imposing anticompetitive conditions on software developers and it would need government 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.”

The complaint says that while Facebook initially attempted to compete with Instagram, it ultimately chose to purchase Instagram instead, neutralizing the threat and making it hard for another social networking competitor to gain scale. Facebook’s leadership also allegedly understood and feared that a successful mobile messaging app like WhatsApp could enter the social networking market, which is why it pursued the WhatsApp acquisition.

According to the FTC, Facebook’s dominance in social networking has provided it with “staggering profits,” including revenue of more than $70 billion and profits of more than $18.5 billion in 2019. Facebook has been under investigation for more than a year, with that investigation culminating in the lawsuits filed today.

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