Friday’s report, citing three people familiar with the matter, says the FTC has decided to handle the case internally, a move that may make it easier to win. That said, it also notes that the case could take years and would likely anger attorneys general from multiple states who have been pushing for a swift effort to force change at the social media giant.
The lawsuit is expected to allege that Facebook unfairly stifled competition through its acquisition of smaller rivals, a likely reference to Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram in particular.
Where the lawsuit, should it go ahead later this month, becomes potentially questionable is with a change of government come January. FTC Chair Joe Simons is pushing the lawsuit, but he is a Trump administration appointee and will likely be replaced by the Biden administration at some point in 2021.
And exactly what position the Biden administration will take on antitrust remains unclear. As Protocol notes, “the biggest unknown for the tech industry heading into a Biden administration is his approach to antitrust issues.” “Progressive” Democrats have been pushing for a breakup of big tech, but where Biden was supported by the very same tech companies that are being targeted, so it’s uncertain how aggressive he will be.
Regardless of the form of the antitrust lawsuit and whether it will be backed by the Biden administration, Facebook is preparing for the worst. A report Oct. 4 detailed how Facebook intended to mount a vigorous defense against any attempt to break up its operations in an antitrust lawsuit.
Among various arguments, Facebook claims that any forced attempt to split off Instagram and WhatsApp would defy established law, cost billions of dollars and harm consumers. It also claims that unwinding the apps would be nearly impossible to achieve, forcing the company to spend billions of dollars on maintaining separate systems, thereby weakening security and harming users’ experience.