The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon that the Federal Trade Commission is considering throwing a wrench into Facebook’s vision of world domination, preventing the company from further integrating its separate apps with each other.
Calls to break up the company have only grown louder over the past few years; many experts say the most effective way to do that, and to increase competition among tech platforms, would be to undo Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
This would spin them back off into independent entities — three enormous companies that would compete with each other. Facebook is, one might argue, less useful globally than WhatsApp, and in cool-factor terms, far behind Instagram. So you can see why it acquired these companies, and why it potentially can’t afford to lose them.
Facebook has mastered the art of stalling and beating around the bush, and it thought it had a plan to avoid disaster. The idea (assumed among Facebook critics) was to mash these three services together so thoroughly that breaking them up would be impossible. Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg declared that the “future is private” and announced plans to integrate all of his messaging services (Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger) together so that they would become interoperable. He also planned to introduce end-to-end encryption to all of them. Imagine three tangled up cords of Christmas lights — that’s what Mark Zuckerberg wants for his properties, so that if the FTC orders a breakup, it could take years to actually come to fruition. This is a typical corporate strategy for those under antitrust scrutiny. When the government sued Microsoft in the ’90s over Internet Explorer, the company argued that it was impossible to separate the browser from its operating system, and that doing so would degrade the user experience.
But the FTC’s reported path would put a halt to all that — though in order to stop Facebook’s interoperability project, the commission would need a majority of its five-member body to agree, and then need to file an injunction in court. If one is granted, it could be the first step toward actually breaking up Facebook. One could assume the company has a few other contingency plans up its sleeve.