Aug 2, 2019

FTC said to look at Facebook's Instagram and WhatsApp purchases

The Federal Trade Commission's antitrust probe of Facebook is looking at whether the social network used acquisitions to take out its competition, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: It suggests that the agency was serious when it said it might look at already-completed mergers and acquisitions as part of a broader review of the tech sector.

Flashback: Two major acquisitions, of Instagram and WhatsApp, have given Facebook a shield against declining user growth on its classic social platform for nearly a decade.

  • It bought Instagram first, in 2012, for $1 billion.
  • It purchased WhatsApp two years later for $19 billion.

In recent years, critics have contended that those deals allowed Facebook to stifle competition.

  • They say Facebook has used proprietary data, via a virtual private network called Onavo that it acquired in 2013, to identify small companies gaining market share and buy them before they can present too much of a threat.
  • Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has called for appointing regulators who might be willing to unwind those acquisitions by Facebook, and other purchases by major internet firms.

Yes, but: The exact nature of the FTC's inquiries are not yet clear. Investigations are generally cloaked in secrecy and can take years.

The bigger picture: The increased antitrust scrutiny of major tech giants may already be affecting their decisions about what companies to acquire — and whether the extra fight in D.C. is worth the effort.

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Antitrust casualties: The deals that don't get done

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There's a reason it's hard to gauge the impact of antitrust investigations: Their effect is often felt in the form of acquisitions that aren't made.

Driving the news: Facebook ditched negotiations that were underway late last year to acquire Houseparty, a video-based social network, the New York Times' Mike Isaac reported Monday. Facebook feared giving more ammunition to antitrust regulators who have paid it growing attention because of its dominant market position.

Go deeperArrowAug 13, 2019

Facebook rolls out tool to let users control data collected by outside apps

Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Facebook on Tuesday introduced a new setting to let users view and control data from apps and websites that send Facebook information about user activity away from the app. Facebook is also giving users the ability to clear this information from their account if they choose to, something the company said it was working on doing last year.

Why it matters: The new tool is supposed to give users more control over how their data is shared, in light of revelations through news stories — primarily the Cambridge Analytica scandal — that other companies can access and share user data with Facebook.

Go deeperArrowAug 20, 2019

Tech regulators put to the test

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The backlash against giant tech companies is stressing the public institutions tasked with examining their power, as participants, observers and critics question whether regulators have the skill, will and authority to check corporate forces.

Why it matters: The machinery of antitrust regulation will process the broader conversation about tech's role in society through the mill of American politics and law — and some wonder whether it's up to the task.

Go deeperArrowAug 16, 2019