U.S. regulators have launched antitrust efforts against Facebook in a bid to force the social-media giant to let go of its properties Instagram and WhatsApp.
Federal case seeks to unwind firm’s Instagram, WhatsApp acquisitions
WASHINGTON—The Federal Trade Commission and a bipartisan group of 46 states filed broad antitrust lawsuits against Facebook Inc. on Wednesday, alleging the social-media giant ngaged in a yearslong campaign to buy up or freeze out nascent technology companies that one day might have become rivals.
The FTC’s case is its most ambitious in recent memory and seeks to unwind Facebook’s prior acquisitions of the photosharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp. It comes just weeks after the Justice Department brought an g antitrust lawsuit targeting Google flagship search business.
Each federal agency now has its own once-in-a-generation case at the same time, a signal of the level of U.S. concern about the power of dominant online platforms.
The FTC, on a 3-2 vote, filed the case in a Washington, D.C., federal court after an investigation that stretched more than a year. Commission staffers had been preparing the lawsuit for months and recommended that the FTC vote to bring a case.
New York Democratic Attorney General Letitia James announced the states’ lawsuit, also filed in Washington, which includes the District of Columbia and Guam.
The federal-state coordination signals the depth of legal pressures Facebook is facing, as well as the leading role state law-enforcement officials are playing in antitrust battles with the nation’s most powerful tech companies. Some states also have joined the Justice Department in suing Google, and two other coalitions of states are weighing additional cases against the search giant, a unit of Alphabet Inc.
Facebook posted on Twitter Wednesday in response to the lawsuits, “We’re reviewing the complaints & will have more to say soon. Years after the FTC cleared our acquisitions, the government now wants a doover with no regard for the impact that precedent would have on the broader business community or the people who choose our products every day.”
For Facebook, Wednesday’s filings introduce a confrontation with the government that founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has described in the past as “existential.” Mr. Zuckerberg, who personally engineered many of the actions being targeted by the lawsuits, has previously vowed to counter government antitrust complaints in court, while expressing confidence that Facebook would prevail.
The tech giant’s acquisitions have included Instagram and WhatsApp, which the FTC allowed in 2012 and 2014, respectively. Of the dozens of companies Facebook has acquired over the past decade, some required government clearance while other smaller deals didn’t.