Judge says the FTC’s Meta monopoly lawsuit can go forward

A federal judge said the US Federal Trade Commission can move forward with an antitrust lawsuit against Meta, formerly known as Facebook, after dismissing the lawsuit last year.

District of Columbia District Judge James Boasberg said in an opinion released today that the FTC’s first complaint “stumbled on the starting blocks.” But, Boasberg said, the revised version presents the same arguments with the facts “more robust and detailed than before.” As a result, he rejects Meta’s request to dismiss the case and allow the case to continue, although he stated that the agency “may face a difficult task down the road in proving its allegations”.

Throughout the case, the FTC alleged that Meta had an illegal monopoly on personal social networking services and maintained it through the acquisition of competitors Instagram and WhatsApp. Today’s opinion says the agency has reasonably backed up this claim with statements about Meta’s market strength, even though Boasberg has been late to accepting the claims regarding older Meta interoperability policies, as before.

“In stark contrast to its predecessor, this complaint presents a reinforcement and specific allegations that all point to the same conclusion: Facebook maintained a dominant market share over the relevant time period,” says the opinion. If you accept the definition of the market and the reliability of the FTC’s data, “Facebook’s market share comfortably exceeds levels that courts normally find sufficient to establish a monopoly.”

Boasberg also dropped Meta’s new allegation that FTC Chair Lina Khan invalidated the complaint by prejudging Meta’s guilt, saying that Khan’s previous public criticism of Facebook did not signal an “axe for grinding” based on personal animosity or financial conflicts of interest. Likewise, “Although the Court recognizes the importance of its vote, it is an exaggeration to treat Khan as the sole instigator in the present case.”

The FTC’s lawsuit against Meta is one of several U.S. government efforts to curb the monopoly power of big tech companies, including the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Google under the direction of antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter.

Today’s decision reflects the huge blow that Boasberg delivered to the FTC in June, when he said the complaint contained “nothing” that proves the power of Meta’s monopoly except for the “naked claim” that it owns a dominant stake in personal social networking services. The new complaint amends this claim with Comscore data that illuminates the Meta market share of daily active users (DAUs) and monthly active users (MAUs) for social networks, as well as the relative time spent on these networks. While those numbers will likely be called into question as the case continues, they were compelling enough to allow the FTC to remove the first hurdle and move forward with discovery, where more details could emerge.

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