Facebook’s looming antitrust fight could come as soon as next year, according to statements by FTC Chairman Joe Simons reported by the Financial Times. Simons told FT that he sees the 2020 elections as a looming deadline for the probe, and would seek to make any finding before November 2020 as a result.
“Any significant case that I’m trying to emphasize,” Simons said, “I would want to be out before the election.”
The chairman gave few hints as to what that eventual finding might be, but said the increasing entanglement of Facebook with sister products like Instagram and WhatsApp would make it difficult to execute a traditional antitrust breakup.
“If they’re maintaining separate business structures and infrastructure, it’s much easier to have a divestiture in that circumstance than in where they’re completely enmeshed and all the eggs are scrambled,” Simons told FT. “On the other hand, you might have a situation where you have additional evidence that the company was engaged in a program to basically snuff out its competitors through a process of acquisition.”
The FTC informed Facebook in June that it was investigating the company for possible antitrust violations, an investigation that Facebook confirmed in an earnings call the following month. The investigation came on the heels of a $5 billion fine levied in connection with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It was the largest fine ever levied against a tech company by the US government, but only a fraction of Facebook’s quarterly profits, leading some to worry that the agency lacked the necessary power to rein in the tech giant.
The size and power of Facebook has become a point of increasing anxiety in the tech world, and many have suggested that either antitrust action or aggressive new regulations are necessary to keep the company in line.
Lawmakers have responded to those concerns with increasingly aggressive oversight of the company. The House Judiciary Committee is investigating Facebook for market power abuses in parallel with the FTC probe, and a number of presidential candidates have already expressed concerns about the company’s power. In March, Elizabeth Warren pledged to split off Instagram and WhatsApp from Facebook if elected, as part of an ambitious tech policy plan.