(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook Inc acquisitions were aimed at buying up potential rivals before they could become a threat to the social media company, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.
FILE PHOTO: Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joe Simons announces that Facebook Inc has agreed to a settlement of allegations it mishandled user privacy during a news conference at FTC Headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
The company’s acquisition practices are the main focus of the probe, as the FTC looks into Facebook buying technology-based startups to keep them from challenging it, the report said. Facebook has purchased dozens of companies over the years, including messaging company WhatsApp and image sharing platform Instagram.
Facebook last week said the FTC had opened an antitrust investigation in June looking into the areas of “social networking or social media services, digital advertising, and/or mobile or online applications.”
Facebook shares were down 0.7%.
Both FTC and Facebook declined to comment on the report.
The U.S. Justice Department said on July 23 it was opening a broad investigation of major digital technology firms, looking into whether they engage in anticompetitive practices, a clear signal that President Donald Trump’s administration is stepping up its scrutiny of the industry.
In June, Reuters reported that the FTC and the Justice Department, which enforce U.S. antitrust laws, have divided oversight over the big four tech companies, with Amazon.com Inc and Facebook under the watch of the FTC, and Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google under the Justice Department.
Last month, Facebook settled an FTC probe into allegations of inappropriately sharing data of 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Facebook will pay a record-breaking $5 billion fine.
In Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike have expressed growing concern about the size of the largest tech firms and their market power. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has called for breaking up companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook and unwinding prior acquisitions.
In July, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel pressed executives from the four firms about their competitive practices and noted that Google, Facebook, Amazon had a rising share of key markets.
It is rare for the U.S. government to seek to undo a consummated deal. The most famous case in recent memory is the government’s effort to break up Microsoft Corp. The Justice Department won a preliminary victory in 2000 but was reversed on appeal. The case settled with Microsoft intact.
Reporting by Sayanti Chakraborty in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Bill Berkrot and Will Dunham