FTC mulls Facebook lawsuit as staffers support antitrust case

Commissioners met privately via videoconference Thursday to discuss next steps

Federal Trade Commission staff members are recommending that the agency bring an antitrust case against Facebook Inc., according to people familiar with the matter, but commissioners haven’t yet reached a decision.

The five-member FTC met privately via videoconference Thursday to discuss next steps, without taking action, the people said.


The FTC has spent more than a year looking into complaints that Facebook has been using its powerful market position to stifle competition, part of a broader effort by U.S. antitrust authorities to examine the conduct of big technology companies.

The FTC listed Thursday’s meeting on its public calendar but didn’t reveal the topic, saying it was discussing a nonpublic law enforcement matter. The commissioners, three Republicans and two Democrats, can’t all talk about an enforcement action as a group unless they announce a formal meeting.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that the FTC was gearing up to file a possible antitrust lawsuit against Facebook by year-end, with staffers preparing a draft complaint. With this week’s discussions, the commission could be headed toward a decision in as soon as the next few weeks, the people familiar with the matter said.

Staffers have recommended the FTC take action against Facebook, the people said, but details about the commission’s legal theories couldn’t immediately be learned.

The company last year disclosed it was under investigation by the FTC, and the Journal has previously reported that one focus of the agency’s probe is the company’s past acquisitions of potential competitors, such as photo-sharing service Instagram.

Facebook is still in the process of making its case to the commission, even as the probe has been progressing into its late stages, and recent efforts by FTC staff have included taking testimony from Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, something the commission didn’t do during a prior probe of the company’s privacy practices.

That matter resulted in a record-breaking $5 billion settlement.

The commission is facing political complexities, particularly with the Nov. 3 election looming. Republican Chairman Joseph Simons during his tenure has at times faced challenges in building coalitions among his Republican and Democratic colleagues.


The commission’s meeting Thursday comes two days after the Justice Department, which shares enforcement authority, filed an antitrust lawsuit alleging Alphabet Inc.’s Google uses anticompetitive tactics to preserve a monopoly for its flagship search engine and related advertising business.

Google denied the allegations and said the department’s case was misguided.