A consortium of 48 attorneys general and the U.S. government filed antitrust lawsuits against Facebook Inc. on Wednesday, claiming it committed unlawful, anticompetitive acts that put rivals out of business and cemented its status as the pre-eminent social-networking giant.
Facebook is the largest social network in the world with 2.7 billion monthly active users across its four apps: Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. “No company should have this much-unchecked power over our personal information and our social interactions and that’s why we are taking action today and standing up for the millions of consumers and millions of small businesses that have been hurt by Facebook’s illegal behavior,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said on Wednesday, speaking on behalf of the attorneys general, including those in Guam and Washington, DC and in all states except Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, or South Dakota.
The twin lawsuits filed in federal district court alleging that Facebook under its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, behaved for years as an unlawful monopoly — one that had repeatedly weaponized its vast stores of data, seemingly limitless wealth, and savvy corporate muscle to fend off threats and maintain its stature as one of the most widely used social networking services in the world.
At the heart of both lawsuits claim that Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion and WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion, as well as other smaller technology companies, were carried out to quash competition. As part of its lawsuit, the FTC wants to force Facebook to break off both Instagram and WhatsApp. Investigators said the purchases ultimately helped Facebook remove potentially potent rivals from the digital marketplace, allowing the tech giant to enrich itself on advertising dollars at user’s cost, who as a result have fewer social networking options at their disposal. Antitrust regulators explicitly asked a court to consider forcing Facebook to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp to remedy their competition concerns. Such a penalty will disband Zuckerberg’s digital empire and severely curb Facebook’s ambitions.
The Federal Trade Commission, led by Republican Chairman Joe Simons, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Letitia James, the attorney general of the Democratic Republic of New York, led Democratic and Republican counterparts from many countries and territories where they filed their grievances in the same area. Appearing at a news conference, James on Wednesday sharply rebuked Facebook for having put “profits ahead of consumers’’ welfare and privacy.
Investigators on Wednesday also faulted Facebook for how the company manages its vast trove of user data and the policies that govern when and how third-party app developers and other companies can access it. Such tactics allow Facebook to eliminate potential competitors before they become too popular. “Facebook has hindered, suppressed, and deterred the emergence and growth of rival personal social networking providers, and unlawfully maintained its monopoly in the U.S. personal social networking market, other than through merits competition,” the FTC charged.