The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday sued the dissolution of Facebook and asked the federal court to force the sale of devices like Instagram and WhatsApp as an independent business.
“Facebook has maintained its monopoly position by acquiring companies that threaten competition and has introduced restrictive policies that unduly hinder actual or potential rivals that Facebook cannot or cannot acquire,” the committee said in a federal court in Washington. lawsuit.
The lawsuit asks the court to order “the disposal of assets, the sale or reconstruction of businesses (including, but not limited to, Instagram and / or WhatsApp)” and any other facilitations that the court may wish to add. .
The announcement is a significant step in decades, with Facebook and a number of other major U.S. technology companies growing rapidly over the past 10 years, with little government oversight.
But the lack of control has changed recently with a series of lawsuits that now threaten to curb the dominance of U.S. high-tech companies that have grown into some of the world’s most valuable companies.
Attorneys general in 48 states and territories have said they are launching their own lawsuit against Facebook, reflecting widespread and bipartisan concerns about how much power Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has amassed on the internet.
Facebook’s stock price fell as much as 4 percent after the news before clearing its losses.
“Breaking Facebook” has become an exclamation for the company’s critics – from Senate Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to one of Facebook’s wealthy founders, Chris Hughes, who wrote a 6,000-word break last year. But this idea has never been tried in court.
Facebook said it was reviewing the two lawsuits and pointed out that the FTC had approved the acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp at the time.
“Years after the FTC clarified our acquisitions, the government now wants to take over the case and ignore the impact of the precedent on the wider business community or the people who choose our products on a daily basis,” Facebook said. statementadding that he will have more to say soon.
Zuckerberg had previously promised a strong defense. At an internal meeting last year, he told employees that if the government sued for the dissolution of Facebook, I would “bet that a legal challenge awaits us and I would bet we will win the legal challenge”.
“At the end of the day, if someone tries to threaten something that is existential, they go to the carpet and fight,” Zuckerberg said.
Even if government lawyers win a verdict against Facebook, it depends on the federal judge what he has to do with the company’s dominance. A large company rarely breaks down, but this has happened in the past, as it did in AT&T in 1984.
In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $ 1 billion in an agreement approved by the FTC with a 5-0 vote at a time when Instagram was not widely used. In 2014, Facebook purchased the WhatsApp app for about $ 22 billion.
This time, the FTC’s vote in the lawsuit was 3-2, with Republican President Joseph Simons joining the committee’s two Democrats, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Rohit Chopra, in filing the lawsuit.
The states ’lawsuit does not explicitly call for the unbundling of Facebook, but instead asks the federal court to stop Facebook’s anti-competitive behavior in general and take any other action the court deems appropriate.
“Using huge amounts of data and funds, Facebook has crushed or obstructed what the company saw as a threat,” New York Attorney General Letitia James told a state press conference launching the lawsuit.
James said the states directed the lawsuit not only to Facebook’s previous rival acquisitions, but also to deal with competitors ’apps. He said he “pushed oxygen” out of the tech industry with his Facebook practices.
“It also sent a clear message to the industry: Don’t step on the lawn of Facebook,” James said. He quoted a technical manager who said they were afraid of “Mark’s anger,” referring to Zuckerberg.
The antitrust enforcement was built on almost all major tech companies.
In October, the Department of Justice and 11 states sued Google, claiming it had used its huge size to illegally monopolize the search advertising market. Last month, European authorities accused Amazon of distorting competition by using data from independent sellers for its own benefit.
Facebook is already facing a proposed class action brought by app developers claiming illegal monopolistic behavior.
Facebook agreed last year to pay $ 5 billion to the FTC to complete an investigation into the company’s privacy practices, which is a record penalty, but one was critically rejected by the company’s critics.
The new Washington administration is not necessarily giving the tech industry a respite either.
President-elect Joe Biden made no secret of his low opinion of Facebook. In January, he told The New York Times editorial: “I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I was never a big Zuckerberg fan. I think it’s a real problem.
Biden said there was “overwhelming pride” in Silicon Valley and that Facebook could not prevent Russian operatives from using its services during the 2016 presidential election.