American justice validates the approach of the Federal Trade Commission which attacks Facebook for abuse of a dominant position, accusing it in particular of burying any emerging competition by buying it.
US judge James Boasberg has given his consent to the continuation of the lawsuit brought by the trade authority (the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC) against Meta, the parent company of Facebook. The company had tried to have the case closed, without success. This judge nevertheless asked the FTC to review certain passages of his complaint, without altering the substance. “The basis of the trial remains unchanged, but the facts used to support the theories are much more solid and detailed in this second version, in particular anything relating to the alleged monopoly that the accused would enjoy and abuse”, says James Boasberg.
Among the FTC’s accusations against Facebook, there is first the so-called “buy and bury” strategy, which consists of acquiring any emerging competitor threatening its monopoly. Each year, the company gets its hands on dozens of start-ups with high potential, and it is also for this reason that it has signed checks worth several billion dollars in order to afford services like WhatsApp. or Instagram.
In the FTC’s file there is evidence that Facebook was aiming to compete with Instagram with its own services, before the photographic social network began to become too popular, which prompted Mark Zuckerberg’s firm to make a takeover. However, the FTC regrets that with each of these acquisitions, competition in the market is reduced. “It is true that if this takeover had never taken place and Facebook had developed its own services, consumers would have more choice today”, recognizes the judge.
The same goes for WhatsApp, with James Boasberg indicating that Facebook has “Briefly tried to compete with this messaging” before buying it back. He also cites internal notes that as early as 2012, Mark Zuckerberg was worried about WhatsApp technology. “I’m more worried about the messages. WhatsApp is ahead of us in messaging, just as Instagram was ahead of us in photos. I’d be willing to pay $ 1 billion to buy them if they’re open for sale ”, wrote the boss of Facebook in one of these documents. Two years later, the Internet giant bought WhatsApp for $ 19 billion.
Unfounded complaint against Facebook APIs
Where the judge asked the FTC to review his complaint is in the accusations of stifling competition through programming interfaces. According to the American gendarme of competition, Facebook would have used its APIs to restrict the possibilities of emergence of certain competitors. For the judge, the arguments and evidence put forward were not sufficient, especially since the practices pointed out were abandoned by Facebook in 2018, some having even been stopped in 2013. For the judge, the FTC cannot prosecute the company on such ancient facts.
Finally, in its request to drop charges, Facebook insisted that the mistakes it may have made have all been made public and that its business strategy is visible to all. Also, if the general public continues to use its services, it is with full knowledge of the facts, even though many services competing with its networks and messaging services exist today. What the judge swept aside by recalling that the American Congress has started a debate concerning the regulation of the giants of the Web, which could lead to new laws that are more protective for users and their data. The mere fact that this debate exists in Congress is, he says, proof that this is a subject that American society cares about.