- 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)
Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat
Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.
Schools in no fewer than 10 states either canceled classes or increased their police presence on Friday after a series of TikToks warned of imminent shooting and bombs threats.
Despite that, officials said they found little evidence to suggest the threats are credible. It’s possible no real threat was actually ever made as it’s unclear if the supposed threats originated on TikTok, another social media platform, or elsewhere.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” TikTok’s Communications team tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Still, given the uptick of school shootings in the U.S. in recent years, many school districts across the country decided to respond to the rumors. According to The Verge, some districts in California, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas shut down Friday.
“Based on law enforcement interviews, Little Falls Community Schools was specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” one school district in Minnesota said in a letter Thursday. “In conversations with local law enforcement, the origins of this threat remain unknown. Therefore, school throughout the district is canceled tomorrow, Friday, December 17.”
In Gilroy, California, one high school that closed its doors Friday said it would reschedule final exams that were expected to take place the same day to January.
According to the Associated Press, several other districts in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania stationed more police officers at their schools Friday.
Viral Misinformation or Legitimate Warnings?
As The Verge notes, “The reports of threats on TikTok may be self-perpetuating.”
For example, many of the videos online may have been created in response to initial warnings as more people hopped onto the trend. Amid school cancellations, videos have continued to sprout up — many awash with both rumors and factual information.
“I’m scared off my ass, what do I do???” one TikTok user said in a now-deleted video, according to People.
“The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country,” Chicago Public Schools said in a letter, though it did not identify any specific post. “Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media.”
According to Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network, “This is not 2021 phenomenon.”
Instead, she told The Today Show that her network has been tracking school shooting threats since 2013, and she noted that in recent years, they’ve become more prominent on social media.
“It’s not just somebody in a classroom of 15 people hearing someone make a threat,” she said. “It’s 15,000 people on social media, because it gets passed around and it becomes larger and larger and larger.”
Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer
The controversial YouTuber opened up about what it has been like to go from online fame to professional boxing.
The New Yorker Profiles Jake Paul
YouTuber and boxer Jake Paul talked about his career switch, reputation, and cancel culture in a profile published Monday in The New Yorker.
While Paul rose to fame as the Internet’s troublemaker, he now spends most of his time in the ring. He told the outlet that one difference between YouTube and boxing is that his often controversial reputation lends better to his new career.
“One thing that is great about being a fighter is, like, you can’t get cancelled,” Paul said. The profile noted that the sport often rewards and even encourages some degree of bad behavior.
“I’m not a saint,” Paul later continued. “I’m also not a bad guy, but I can very easily play the role.”
Paul also said the other difference between his time online and his time in boxing is the level of work. While he says he trains hard, he confessed that there was something more challenging about making regular YouTube content.
“Being an influencer was almost harder than being a boxer,” he told The New Yorker. “You wake up in the morning and you’re, like, Damn, I have to create fifteen minutes of amazing content, and I have twelve hours of sunlight.”
Jake Paul Vs. Tommy Fury
The New Yorker profile came just after it was announced over the weekend Paul will be fighting boxer Tommy Fury in an 8-round cruiserweight fight on Showtime in December.
“It’s time to kiss ur last name and ur family’s boxing legacy goodbye,” Paul tweeted. “DEC 18th I’m changing this wankers name to Tommy Fumbles and celebrating with Tom Brady.”
Both Paul and Fury are undefeated, according to ESPN. Like Paul, Fury has found fame outside of the sport. He has become a reality TV star in the U.K. after appearing on the hit show “Love Island.”
See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (Dexerto) (ESPN)
Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos
The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.
Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws.
For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform.
The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.
It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end.
The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions.
First Twitch Hack
Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.
That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already.