US sues Facebook for ‘years-long’ abuse of monopoly power

The US Federal Trade Commission and 46 states have filed lawsuits accusing Facebook of violating antitrust rules and calling for penalties that could include forcing the social media group to be broken up. 

The FTC said that Facebook engaged in what it described as a “systematic strategy . . . to eliminate threats to its monopoly”, citing the social media company’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

The company was also accused by the FTC of deliberately cutting off its services to rival developers.

The FTC said that it was seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that could potentially require Facebook to unwind its Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions, or to seek approval before making any future acquisitions.

In a separate lawsuit, a group of 46 states and two other jurisdictions led by New York attorney-general Letitia James alleged that the Silicon Valley group’s acquisitions of rivals and treatment of its developers were illegal and “deprived users from the benefits of competition and reducing privacy protections and services along the way”. 

The lawsuits mark the second significant antitrust action against a big Silicon Valley group this year as regulators circle the tech sector. In October, the US launched a complaint against Alphabet’s Google for using a “web of exclusionary” deals to lock out competitors in the search business.

“Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition,” said Ian Conner, director of the FTC’s bureau of competition. “Our aim is to roll back Facebook’s anti-competitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive.”

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