US sues Facebook over its WhatsApp, Instagram acquisition; alleges it crushed smaller rivals

Washington: The US government and 48 states have filed parallel antitrust lawsuits against Facebook, accusing the social media giant of anti-competitive conduct by abusing its market power to create a monopoly and crushing smaller competitors, a move which may force it to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.
Soon after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 48 state attorney generals on Wednesday sued the California-headquartered company, Facebook’s shares dropped significantly.
The bipartisan coalition led by New York attorney general Letitia James alleged that Facebook has engaged in a systematic strategy to eliminate threats to its monopoly. This includes its 2012 acquisition of up-and-coming rival Instagram, its 2014 acquisition of the mobile messaging app WhatsApp and the imposition of anti-competitive conditions on software developers.
According to the federal complaint, this course of conduct by Facebook harms competition, leaves consumers with few choices for personal social networking and deprives advertisers of the benefits of competition.
For nearly a decade, Facebook used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users, James told reporters at a news conference.
Opposing the lawsuit, Jennifer Newstead, vice president and general counsel of Facebook, described it as revisionist history.
This lawsuit risks sowing doubt and uncertainty about the US government’s own merger review process and whether acquiring businesses can actually rely on the outcomes of the legal process.
“It would also punish companies for protecting their investment and technology from free-riding by those who did not pay for the innovation, making those companies less likely over the long term to make their platforms available to spur the growth of new products and services, she said.
The lawsuit is seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that could, among other things: require divestitures of assets, including Instagram and WhatsApp; prohibit Facebook from imposing anti-competitive conditions on software developers; and require the social media behemoth to seek prior notice and approval for future mergers and acquisitions.
Personal social networking is central to the lives of millions of Americans. Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition. Our aim is to roll back Facebook’s anti-competitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive, said Ian Conner, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition.
The FTC complaint alleged that Facebook undertook a years-long effort to maintain its monopoly through anti-competitive acquisitions and actions that target potential and nascent rivals.
According to the complaint, Facebook is the world’s dominant personal social networking service and has monopoly power in a market for personal social networking services. This unmatched position has provided Facebook with staggering profits. Last year alone, Facebook generated revenues of over USD 70 billion and profits of more than USD 18.5 billion.
The lawsuit alleged Facebook targeted potential competitive threats to its dominance. Instagram, a rapidly growing startup, emerged at a critical time in personal social networking competition, when users of personal social networking services were migrating from desktop computers to smartphones, and when consumers were increasingly embracing photo-sharing.

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