Officials at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are considering the possibility of a preliminary injunction against Facebook over antitrust issues related to how the social media giant’s apps interact with each other, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
The crux of the case would involve Facebook’s policies on the integration of its apps and whether it harms competition with rivals. Facebook owns Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.
Action by the FTC would probably involve an order that would force Facebook to stop enforcing its policies regarding apps, as well as blocking it from integrating apps any further, which could complicate things if the company is eventually ordered to break up.
In order to seek an injunction, which would need to be filed in federal court, a majority of the five-member FTC would need to agree to it.
The idea that the FTC would seek an injunction over “interoperability” rules concerning the social media giant has been floating around for some time. The FTC action could happen as soon as next month.
“There are privacy and security advantages to interoperability,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post in March. “With the ability to message across our services … you’d be able to send an encrypted message to someone’s phone number in WhatsApp from Messenger.”
Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, who used to be a senior adviser for the FTC, said the injunction would help put the FTC in a strategically beneficial place.
“The advantages are that it gets things moving, and sort of forces things to a judicial decision very quickly,” Wu said, “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.”
Wu said he views Facebook’s move to closer integrate its properties as a way to hide its anticompetitive ambitions.