Attorney General William Tong said he has joined a coalition of 48 attorneys general to file a lawsuit against Facebook Inc. and they allege that “the company has and continues today to illegally stifle competition to protect its monopoly power.”
“Facebook has used its market power and trove of consumer data to unlawfully acquire and squash its competition. Their exclusionary and predatory conduct suffocates innovation, and stymies small businesses and start-ups from getting their apps off the ground. In the process, the social media titan has degraded consumer privacy and protections. Our lawsuit seeks to end Facebook’s illegal monopoly, including potential court orders to restructure the company and force divesture of unlawfully acquired business,” Tong said in a statement.
Facebook, CNBC reports, first disclosed it was being investigated on antitrust grounds by the Federal Trade Commission in July 2019. A coalition led by New York's Letitia James announced an investigation into the business shortly after.
A statement from Tong's office said, Facebook, In an effort to maintain its market dominance in social networking, employs a variety of methods to impede competing services.
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The attorney general argued that Facebook’s "unlawful monopoly" gives it broad discretion to set the terms for how its users’ private information is collected and used to further its business interests and that when Facebook cuts off integration to third-party developers, users cannot easily move their own information to other social networking services and users either stay put or start their online lives from scratch if they want to try an alternative.
Facebook, Tong's office said, is able to make decisions about how to curate content on the platform and use the personal information it collects from users to further its business interests, even if its choices conflict with the interests and preferences of users.
Tong addressed Facebook acquiring smaller firms that pose competitive threats, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, and said the elimination of competitive alternatives means users have no viable option other than Facebook, fueling its growth without competition.
The release from Tong's office also claims that when competitors refuse to be bought out, Facebook "tries to squeeze every bit of oxygen out of the room for these companies."
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and attorneys general of New York, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, the District of Columbia, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the territory of Guam have joined the suit.
The states are asking the court to halt Facebook’s "illegal, anticompetitive conduct and block the company from continuing this behavior in the future." They are also asking the court to keep Facebook from making further acquisitions worth more than $10 million without advance notice to the state of New York and the other states listed as plaintiffs.
They are also asking the court to provide any additional relief it determines appropriate, including "the divestiture or restructuring of illegally acquired companies, or current Facebook assets or business lines."