Judge Dismisses FTC’s Antitrust Lawsuit Against Facebook

A federal judge tossed out the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, concluding that the government failed to establish that the tech platform had a monopoly on social media networks, reported The New York Times.

The judge, James E. Boasberg, still left open the possibility that the government could revive the case by amending its complaint. But he wrote that the government’s case was “legally insufficient and must therefore be dismissed.”

The decision is a setback to the FTC’s efforts to rein in the power of the platforms. In its lawsuit, it had sought to break up Facebook, citing its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp.

In the decision Boasberg wrote that the FTC failed to back up its claim that Facebook had a dominant share of the market in excess of 60%. He wrote that the government’s “inability to offer any indication of the metric(s) or method(s) it used to calculate Facebook’s market share renders its vague ‘60%-plus’ assertion too speculative and conclusory to go forward.”

He also found fault in the way that the government claimed that Facebook violated antitrust law by refusing interoperability permissions with competing apps. He wrote that “all such revocations of access occurred in 2013, seven years before this suit was filed, and the FTC lacks statutory authority to seek an injunction ‘based on [such] long-past conduct.’”

He said that the FTC was on “firmer ground” in challenging the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, rejecting Facebook’s claim that the FTC lacks authority to force Facebook to divest those purchases.

“Whether other issues arise in a subsequent phase of litigation is dependent on how the government wishes to proceed,” Boasberg wrote.

The judge also dismissed a case brought by 48 state attorneys general, in which they made similar claims. Unlike the federal government, he wrote, the states are bound by the doctrine of laches, in which those who “sleep on their rights” and wait too long to file a case cannot seek court relief. He noted that Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, yet the states’ case was filed last December. He also rejected the state’s claims on Facebook’s refusal to allow interoperability with competing apps.

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