F.T.C.’s Facebook Investigation May Stretch Past Election

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F.T.C.’s Facebook Investigation May Stretch Past Election

Last July, the F.T.C. announced a record $5 billion settlement with Facebook over violations of a 2011 consent decree over data abuses. Mr. Simons has said the fine is one of his proudest achievements as the lead member of the F.T.C., but many consumer advocates say the settlement did not significantly restrain Facebook’s business practices.

The F.T.C. has not disclosed details of its investigation, but it appears the agency is partly focused on whether Facebook illegally maintained its dominance in social networking through acquisitions. The company has bought more than 80 companies over the last 15 or so years.

The agency, which has not paused the investigation during the pandemic, has conducted hundreds of interviews and collected thousands of internal documents. Many questions are related to past mergers like the $21 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 and the $1 billion purchase of Instagram in 2012, according to the people. Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are among the most popular apps in the world, with more than three billion users altogether.

The House antitrust subcommittee has also inquired about Giphy, which is used by competitors like Twitter, Snap and ByteDance’s TikTok. The $400 million merger, the rivals have argued, follows a long pattern of acquisitions by Facebook that could put competitors at a disadvantage. Giphy is not only iused by Facebook’s rivals, the company has valuable market data about them.

Facebook has said it faces stiff competition in the United States and elsewhere, pointing to companies like TikTok. It also says that the barriers to starting a possible challenger to its business are lower than ever. Start-ups like Snap and TikTok have sprung up quickly over the past 10 years, building huge businesses.

“At this point in time, it’s hard to understand why it would take substantially longer to determine whether there is a case to file unless there are new complexities that have arisen,” said Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust official at the Justice Department and a senior adviser at the consumer group Public Knowledge.

But many investigations take a long time and the agency appears to be exploring multiple issues related to the company.

In addition, the stakes are high. Mr. Simons, a veteran antitrust lawyer, may be trying to ensure any case the agency makes can last no matter who is president or chairman, Mr. Kimmelman said.

David McCabe contributed reporting.

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