Early this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed interest in merging Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Whatsapp. Zuckerberg also floated this idea to further increase security by implementing end-to-end encryption for these services. Over the course of 2019, this plan has slowly been set into motion with goals of completion by early 2020.
However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Trade Commission is stepping in and asking courts to halt the planned merge of the aforementioned apps based on antitrust grounds. Unfortunately for Facebook, the social media giant has been under the eye of the FTC due to its growing dominance in the different branches of the tech industry.
Despite being owned under one umbrella company, the three apps are currently operating independently and will continue to do so despite the merge. The plan is that the apps will, instead, have a unified technical infrastructure. Doing so will make the apps so interdependent that it may be difficult to break Facebook up into the smaller, independently-operated company that anti-monopoly advocacy groups such as Freedom from Facebook have been advocating for. This strategy on Facebook’s part also contradicts Zuckerberg’s promise of independence for WhatsApp and Instagram despite their acquisition.
Facebook is just one of a group of tech giants currently being investigated by the FTC. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple are also being reviewed to check whether said companies are operating in an anti-competitive manner. To that effect, earlier this year, Facebook was already issued a five billion dollar fine for violation of user privacy, and this current investigation of the company and its acquisitions will most likely elicit higher penalties.
An internal debate has also arisen at the FTC, whether to ask for a court-ordered injunction to halt Facebook from moving forward with its plans. Doing so would require a majority of FTC commissioners to agree as well as filing a federal lawsuit against Facebook.
A move like this would show FTC’s determination on the matter.
“The advantages are that it gets things moving, and sort of forces things to a judicial decision very quickly,” as said by Columbian University law professor Tim Wu, “As opposed to having an antitrust investigation going for five years… The burdens of proof can be higher for the government, but if they’ve got a good case it can be advantageous.”