Feds sharpen antitrust assault towards Fb

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal regulators stepped up their antitrust attack on Facebook, alleging in a revised complaint Thursday that the social media giant had been using a laser-focused strategy to “buy or bury” rivals in an attempt to stifle competition.

It was the Federal Trade Commission’s second attempt after a federal judge dismissed antitrust lawsuits in June by the agency and a broad coalition of attorney general against Facebook as federal and state agencies ‘efforts to contain the tech titans’ market multiplied.

The new complaint includes a detailed history of Facebook’s behavior, particularly since the introduction of mobile devices like smartphones in the 2010s and the rise of innovative competitors to Facebook.

The FTC is calling for “any discharge required,” including the possible foreclosure of assets like Instagram and WhatsApp or a company restructuring.

Separately, the agency rejected a request from Facebook that FTC chairman Lina Khan – an outspoken critic of Big Tech who was appointed by President Joe Biden in June – resign on the case based on her previous public statements. Facebook says Khan’s criticism of his market power as an academic and legal director of an anti-monopoly think tank and her recent work on a Congressional investigation make it impossible for her to be impartial.

The FTC’s Office of General Counsel considered the petition and dismissed the motion on the grounds that the company’s rights will be fully protected under federal litigation.

Without Khan’s vote, the FTC’s case against Facebook could have stalled by splitting the vote among the four other commissioners – two Democrats and two Republicans. The vote on filing the amended complaint was 3-2, with the two Republicans voting against.

US District Judge James Boasberg ruled in June that the lawsuits were “legally inadequate” and did not provide sufficient evidence of a Facebook monopoly. The ruling dismissed the FTC’s complaint, but not the case, which gave the agency an opportunity to file a revised complaint.

Boasberg had said the FTC had not demonstrated that Facebook had monopoly market power and had not given an estimate of the company’s market share over the past decade. He directly dismissed the states’ separate complaint.

In the new filing, the FTC presented a detailed analysis to support its monopoly claim. “Direct evidence, including historical events and market realities,” confirms the allegation, it says in the complaint. The damage to consumers due to the lack of competition is “particularly serious,” it says.

Some of the material intended to demonstrate dominant market share will be blacked out in the public version of the submission, including internal Facebook emails.

The agency brought its case back on Thursday when Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple were under extreme scrutiny and legislative pressure from the FTC, the Department of Justice, European regulators, lawmakers in Congress and state legislatures, and most recently an executive order from the Biden -White House.

The FTC and 48 states and districts sued Facebook in December 2020, accusing the tech giant of abusing its social network dominance to crush smaller competitors and looking for workarounds that could include a forced spin-off of the popular Instagram and WhatsApp messaging Could include social network services.

The FTC had claimed that Facebook had a “systematic strategy” to eliminate its competition, including buying smaller emerging competitors like Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.

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