FTC says Facebook has been a monopoly ‘since at least 2011’ in amended antitrust complaint

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The Federal Trade Commission has filed an amended antitrust complaint against Facebook, alleging that the company violated federal antitrust laws with its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp. The new complaint is a more detailed version of a charge dismissed by the court in June for insufficient evidence.

“Facebook has today, and has maintained since 2011, a dominant share of the relevant market for US personal social networking services,” the complaint alleges, citing time spent and active-user metrics on the daily and monthly scale. “Individually and collectively, these metrics provide significant evidence of Facebook’s durable monopoly power in social networking services.”

Facebook has until October 4th to issue a legal response to the complaint. In a post on Twitter, Facebook’s corporate account said the company was reviewing the complaint and “will have more to say soon.”

First filed in December 2020, the FTC alleges that Facebook’s acquisitions of competing networks gave it monopoly power over social network services in the US. But the following June, the court dismissed the complaint, finding that the commission had failed to provide sufficient evidence that Facebook had monopoly power in social networks. However, the court gave the FTC an opportunity to file an amended complaint that addressed the concerns, eventually setting the deadline for August 19th.

In particular, the new complaint contains a more rigorous definition of personal social networks, the market in which Facebook holds the alleged monopoly. The new complaint explicitly distinguishes Facebook from services like TikTok, which broadcast content, but do not provide an explicitly social space. The FTC’s definition also excludes services like Twitter and Reddit that share information among communities with specific interests but “do not focus on connecting friends and family.”

The complaint cites a number of internal messages to establish that Facebook understands this difference, although the specific content of the messages is redacted in the public version of the document.

“Facebook… has been the dominant provider of such services since at least 2011,” the complaint concludes. “Further, Facebook Blue and Instagram are the two largest personal social networking services in the United States.” By the FTC’s definition, Facebook’s only significant competitor in the space is Snapchat, although defunct providers include Friendster, Myspace, Google+, and Path.

In July, Facebook called on FTC Chair Lina Khan to recuse herself from the agency’s lawsuit against the company. “For the entirety of her professional career, Chair Khan has consistently and very publicly concluded that Facebook is guilty of violating the antitrust laws,” the company said at the time. But on Thursday, the FTC announced that Khan would not step away from the case.

“As the case will be prosecuted before a federal judge, the appropriate constitutional due process protections will be provided to the company,” the agency said in a statement.

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