FTC Probe of Facebook Unlikely to Conclude by Election Time

About a year ago, the Federal Trade Commission chair Joseph Simons predicted that the antitrust probe of Facebook would be done before the presidential election, a goal that now seems unlikely. If it runs into next year, a new president could change the FTC’s priorities. For now, the Facebook investigation continues, with staff members prepping depositions of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and examining its purchase of Giphy, a search database for short videos.

The New York Times reports that, “the handling of the case by the agency and Simons stands in stark contrast to the antitrust investigation into Google by the Justice Department … [where] Attorney General William Barr … is widely expected to bring a suit this year, though no decision has been made.”

President Trump has “regularly complained about the power of the tech companies,” with the FTC, Justice Department and “nearly all state attorneys general” beginning investigations against Facebook, Google and other Big Tech companies. NYT notes that, “the FTC’s investigation of Facebook is seen as a test of the agency’s ability to enforce antitrust laws in the Internet economy, where market definitions and theories of violations have been hard to prove.”

Although Simons has been tight-lipped about the FTC’s investigation, “it appears the agency is partly focused on whether Facebook illegally maintained its dominance in social networking through acquisitions,” having purchased 80+ companies over “the last 15 years or so.” It has continued to conduct interviews and collect documents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to a source, “top Facebook officials are preparing for potential depositions and some are worried about the possibility.” Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify on July 27 before lawmakers on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee.

It also states that the attorneys general investigating Facebook for “possible antitrust violations” are not running a “joint probe … with their federal counterparts.” Another source pointed out that, “Facebook, similar to other large companies, in the past has tried to settle government concerns without litigation … [but] there are no active settlement talks with the FTC on antitrust matters now.”

Those familiar with the probe stated that, “Facebook is increasingly preparing for the possibility that the government may seek to limit how its products and platforms interact or force the company to divest parts of its business — and is ready to litigate those points.”

The House Judiciary antitrust committee is also set to hear the testimony of the chief executives of Amazon, Apple and Google.