Facebook has more antitrust headaches coming its way

This could be a very disappointing Christmas for Facebook this year.

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For years, Facebook and its owner Mark Zuckerberg have enjoyed relatively smooth and unfettered access to the market. Its enormous power has left smaller companies and third-party developers simultaneously envious and enraged. Now this kingdom could all become severely compromised as soon as early December, according to The Washington Post. Three sources familiar with the matter told the publication that dozens of state and federal investigators are looking into slamming Facebook with antitrust charges over mainly two issues:

  • Facebook's powerful and rapid acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, and how that business strategy ultimately left consumers with little to no other quality services.
  • Facebook's deeply problematic data collection methods.

The investigators point to Facebook's reach into these apps as anti-competitive and antithetical to market equality and innovation. This all comes several months after leaked internal emails revealed Zuckerberg seeking to buy Instagram in order to "neutralize" competition. In response to the criticism, Facebook has repeatedly denied anti-competitive practices and has also rejected scrutiny from Capitol Hill. But the inquiry remains and it comes down to a perception that many on Capitol Hill have, both left and right, that Facebook created a social network juggernaut so cumbersome that other rivals had no choice but to give into Zuckerberg's empire.

Key history — In particular, it is Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 that is a highlighted aspect of this legal probe. When Facebook bought the service six years ago (and caused subsequent backlash from WhatsApp's co-founder), it made strong claims that it would maintain the once-existing communication and data security of the messaging platform. But it didn't take long for Facebook to essentially break that promise and integrate WhatsApp's user data with its original services. The same can be seen taking place at Instagram.

On top of this, Facebook's access to data and specifically how it uses this information is a matter of deep concern for investigators who claim that Zuckerberg weaponized the trove for commercial gain. The probe, that could take legally definitive shape in December and may even result in financial penalties, is on top of other ongoing and rather fierce criticisms against the company.

Whether it's Facebook's eleventh hour strategy of (barely) containing Donald Trump's false election claims, its own inadvertent hand in bolstering the far-right conspiracy movement QAnon's presence on the platform, its failure to consider the legitimate concerns of content moderators, or scrutiny over its tracking tools, Facebook is going to be in critics' crosshairs for a while. And for good reason.