- The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Facebook on Wednesday, alleging antitrust violations and asking a federal court to force the company to sell off assets such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
- The same day, attorneys general for 48 other states also filed another lawsuit against the $1 trillion company. The suit accused Facebook of implementing a “buy-or-bury” strategy meant to target and snuff out competition in the industry.
- These lawsuits represent the most significant legal and political challenge to Facebook’s exponential growth in the company’s history.
- On Thursday, German regulators also launched an antitrust investigation into Facebook’s decision to link Oculus VR products to its social network.
FTC Sues Facebook for Antitrust Violations
Facebook faces two antitrust lawsuits filed in federal court on Wednesday as well as a separate antitrust investigation launched in Germany on Thursday, making it a tough week for the tech giant.
The first of those lawsuits was brought by the Federal Trade Commission, which accused Facebook of engaging in illegal tactics meant to suppress its competition in the social media industry.
“Facebook has maintained its monopoly position by buying up companies that present competitive threats and by imposing restrictive policies that unjustifiably hinder actual or potential rivals that Facebook does not or cannot acquire,” the FTC said on the opening page of its lawsuit.
Specifically, the FTC referenced two social media platforms: Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion, and WhatsApp, which it bought for $19 billion two years later.
The FTC is asking a federal court in the D.C. Circuit to force Facebook to sell-off both Instagram and WhatsApp so that they can once again become independent businesses.
The lawsuit cites 2012 comments from CEO Mark Zuckerberg where he said Instagram threatened to leave Facebook “very behind in both functionality and brand.”
It also noted that Zuckerberg once called WhatsApp “the next biggest consumer risk” to Facebook.
Besides Instagram and WhatsApp, the lawsuit also mentions the now-defunct video-sharing app Vine. Notably, Vine led to the rise of creators who have now become household names, including Jake and Logan Paul, Lele Pons, Liza Koshy, and David Dobrik. It was also the starting point for more traditional celebrities like Shawn Mendes.
When Vine first came out in 2013, users were able to find friends on the app using connectivity to Facebook; however, Zuckerberg later approved a move to cut off the functionality. Because of that, the FTC lawsuit argues Vine was stripped of a feature that would have helped it’s ability to grow.
48 States File Second Antitrust Lawsuit
Alongside that lawsuit, another antitrust lawsuit against Facebook was filed by attorneys general in 48 states Wednesday.
While announcing that lawsuit, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Facebook’s practices have “squeezed oxygen” from the tech industry.
“Today, we are sending a clear and strong message to Facebook and every other company that any efforts to stifle competition, hurt small business, reduce innovation and creativity, [and] cut privacy protections will be met with the full force of our offices,” James added.
The lawsuit itself denounces Facebook’s “bury-or-buy strategy,” which forces users who are “otherwise dissatisfied with the data usage and privacy options available on Facebook” to “have nowhere else to go.”
Unlike the FTC lawsuit, this lawsuit doesn’t explicitly call for Facebook to be broken up; rather, the attorneys general are asking the D.C. court to stop Facebook’s anticompetitive conduct in general, while asking the court to take any other action it views as necessary.
Facebook: Lawsuits Are “Revisionist History”
Facebook Vice President and General Counsel Jennifer Newstead has criticized the lawsuits as “revisionist history.”
She noted that at the time Facebook bought Instagram and WhatsApp, the FTC approved both acquisitions.
“The government now wants a do-over, sending a chilling warning to American business that no sale is ever final,” she said. “Antitrust laws exist to protect consumers and promote innovation, not to punish successful businesses.”
“People and small businesses don’t choose to use Facebook’s free services and advertising because they have to, they use them because our apps and services deliver the most value.”
As legal experts have pointed out, the government is well within its rights to pursue these lawsuits.
For one, Newstead’s “revisionist history” lacks context.
When the FTC originally approved Facebook’s acquisition of WhatApp, it did so with the promise that Facebook would preserve WhatsApp’s independence and privacy protections; however, over the last year, Facebook has been working to integrate WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook Messenger. As a result, regulators have described the plan as a bait-and-switch tactic that has the potential to eliminate WhatsApp’s privacy protections, after having also eliminated it as a competitor.
On top of that, Zuckerberg has appeared before Congress multiple times this year alone because of antitrust concerns.
In October, House Democrats also unveiled a 450-page antitrust report against Facebook, as well as Google, Amazon, and Apple.
“Our investigation leaves no doubt that there is a clear and compelling need for Congress and the antitrust enforcement agencies to take action that restores competition, improves innovation, and safeguards our democracy,” lawmakers noted.
Wednesday’s lawsuits are undoubtedly meant to be a step in that direction. In fact, they represent the most significant legal and political challenge to Facebook’s exponential growth in the company’s history.
Still, a resolution on this issue could take years. Reportedly, Zuckerberg himself even noted that in an internal discussion with employees, telling them that he didn’t yet anticipate “any impact on individual teams or roles.”
Germany Launches Investigation into Facebook VR
On Thursday, German regulators announced they were launching an investigation into Facebook’s decision to require people to create Facebook accounts in order to be able to use their Oculus virtual reality products.
“Linking virtual reality products and the group’s social network in this way could constitute a prohibited abuse of dominance by Facebook,” investigators said.
The lawsuits and this investigation are the latest in governmental moves around the world to regulate big tech industries.
Last month, the European Union filed its own antitrust charges against Amazon, accusing it of using its access to data from companies that sell products on its platform to gain an unfair advantage over them.
In October, the United States Justice Department and 11 states sued Google and accused it of cornering the market in search-related advertising.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Reuters) (The Washington Post)
Black Mirror or Reality? Microsoft Granted Patent for Tech That Lets It Create Chatbots of Dead People
- Microsoft has been granted a patent that would allow it to create artificial intelligence chatbots of dead people using “voice data, social media posts, electronic messages, written letters, etc.”
- As Microsoft noted in its patent proposal, chatbots could also be created to imitate living people — opening the door for users to train a digital version of themselves to be used after they die.
- In the patent filing, Microsoft also suggested creating 2D or 3D models of chatbot subjects by studying images and videos of them.
- Online, many noted the similarities between Microsoft’s patent and a 2013 episode of Black Mirror in which a woman creates an AI version of her deceased boyfriend.
Microsoft Granted Controversial Patent
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted Microsoft a patent for technology that would allow it digitally revive dead people.
If implemented, Microsoft would use information like “voice data, social media posts, electronic messages, written letters, etc.,” to create artificial intelligence chatbots meant to replicate the person.
In its filing, Microsoft noted that the person could be “a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a celebrity, a fictional character, a historical figure, a random entity, etc.”
Microsoft also noted, “the specific person may also correspond to oneself (e.g., the user creating/training the chat bot), or a version of oneself (e.g., oneself at a particular age or stage of life).”
As The Independent pointed out, that opens up the door for living users to be able to “train a digital replacement in the event of their death.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Microsoft has also suggested creating 2D or even 3D models of the person by studying images and videos of them.
Has Life Finally Become an Episode of Black Mirror?
Online, many noted the similarities between Microsoft’s patent and a 2013 episode of Black Mirror in which a character, played by Hayley Atwell, revives her recently-deceased boyfriend through an AI chatbot. As the episode progresses, that AI — played by Domhnall Gleeson — eventually becomes an exact replica android of her boyfriend.
“More people that need to remember Black Mirror is a warning sign, not a product manual,” said Tama Leaver, an internet studies professor at Curtin University in Australia.
Indeed, many critics have interpreted the episode, which focuses on the grief felt by Atwell’s character because of her loss, as an examination of “our own mortality and our desire to play God.”
“It shines a spotlight on our desperate need to reverse a natural and necessary part of life without considering the consequences on our emotional well-being,” Roxanne Sancto said in a review for Paste Magazine.
In fact, series creator Charlie Brooker said part of his direct inspiration for writing the episode was based on Twitter and the question: “What if these people were dead and it was software emulating their thoughts?”
See what others are saying: (The Independent) (IGN) (Indie Wire)
JoJo Siwa Fans Caution Against Labeling the Star’s Sexuality
- JoJo Siwa was featured in two TikTok videos Wednesday that many felt signaled her as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
- One showed her dancing and lip-syncing to Paramore’s “Aint It Fun,” along with members of the TikTok group Pride House LA. Siwa specifically mouthed the lyric “Now you’re one of us,” which is also the caption of the post.
- The second video showed her lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” a song that has long been heralded as an LGBTQ+ anthem.
- The 17-year-old entertainer has not directly addressed speculations about her sexuality, prompting many to caution against labeling her.
JoJo Siwa TikToks Trigger Sexuality Speculations
JoJo Siwa fans are urging the public not to label the 17-year-old entertainer’s sexuality, especially when she has not explicitly done so herself.
The request came after Siwa became a trending topic Wednesday when many speculated that she had come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
The speculations stem from two TikTok videos she was featured in. The first was posted on choreographer Kent Boyd’s account. It features him and other members of the TikTok group Pride House LA, which includes several stars from Disney Channel’s “Teen Beach Movie.”
It showed them all lip-syncing and dancing along to Paramore’s hit song “Ain’t It Fun.” Siaw specifically mouthed the lyric “Now you’re one of us.” That lyric was also the caption of the post.
Later in the day, Siwa posted a video on her personal TikTok account that featured her lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” a song that has long been heralded as an LGBTQ+ anthem.
Part of the lyrics she sang along to were: “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian transgender life / I’m on the right track baby, I was born to survive.”
These posts really started all the rumors online, and things picked up when influencers like James Charles, Bretman Rock, and others expressed their support.
Many fans also left comments on the videos saying they were proud of her, and journalist Yashar Ali tweeted, “This feels like a big deal if it is what I think it is…JoJo Siwa is hugely popular with kids.”
“And as someone just pointed out, if it is what I think it is, she’s doing it at the height of her fame when she’s selling out arenas,” he continued.
Despite the wave of praise, other fans feel that it’s inappropriate and harmful to make speculations about anyone’s sexuality.
Many have even shared their own experiences coming out, reminding people not to label Siwa as anything until she explicitly chooses to share that information herself.
While Siwa hasn’t directly addressed any of the responses as of yet, she has retweeted a post that features her video, the pride flag emoji, and the caption, “@itsjojosiwa is on the right track, she was born this way.”
Still, others also noted that she has publicly asked Lady Gaga to collaborate with her in the past, so perhaps this is a signal about that happening soon.
Others believe it could also be Siwa’s way of signaling that she is an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.
See what others are saying: (Insider) (Metro) (Teen Vogue)
Google Investigates Top AI Researcher Who Was Looking Into a Previous Firing
- Google is investigating the co-leader of its Ethical AI team, Margaret Mitchell.
- While Mitchell has not been fired, her account has been locked because Google said she “exfiltrated thousands of files” and shared them with people outside of the company.
- In a tweet, Mitchell indicated that she had been “documenting current critical issues” related to the firing of another Google AI Ethicist in December.
- Sources reportedly told Axios that Mitchell had been specifically looking for messages that showed discriminatory treatment of that fired researcher.
Google Investigates Margaret Mitchell
On Tuesday, Google stated that it is now investigating the co-leader of its Ethical Al team, Margaret Mitchell.
Mitchell has reportedly not been fired, but her company email account has been locked.
According to Google, its security systems automatically lock employee accounts “when they detect that the account is at risk of compromise due to credential problems or when an automated rule involving the handling of sensitive data has been triggered.”
In this case, Google said Mitchell “exfiltrated thousands of files” and then shared them with people outside of the company.
Why Did Mitchell Begin Looking Through Files?
Mitchell’s investigation is related to the ousting of another top AI ethicist at Google, Timnit Gebru, who was fired at the beginning of December.
Before Gebru was fired, managers reportedly instructed her to withdraw an unpublished research paper upon her return from vacation. In an email to the internal listserv Google Brain Women and Allies, Gebru then voiced frustration at managers for allegedly making the decision without her input.
“You are not worth having any conversations about this, since you are not someone whose humanity (let alone expertise recognized by journalists, governments, scientists, civic organizations such as the electronic frontiers foundation etc) is acknowledged or valued in this company,” Gebru said in a critique of the decision.
Gebru’s firing led to such a massive outcry from Google employees that Google CEO Sundar Pichai pledged to investigate the situation.
On Friday, Mitchell indicated in a tweet that she was also looking into Gebru’s firing, saying that she was “documenting current critical issues from [Gebru’s] firing, point by point, inside and outside work.”
According to Axios, sources have said that Mitchell used automated scripts to siphon through messages that potentially document discriminatory treatment against Gebru.