Facebook could be forced to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp after United States officials sued the company for illegally crushing competition to maintain its monopoly.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a coalition of 48 US state and territory governments simultaneously filed two long-awaited lawsuits on Wednesday asking the court to block Facebook’s future mergers and potentially break up its business.
Both complaints focused on Facebook’s controversial acquisition of Instagram in 2012 for $1bn (£750m) and WhatsApp in 2014 for $19bn, as well as its hardball treatment of other companies seeking access to its data.
The FTC described those purchases as part of a “systematic strategy to eliminate threats to its monopoly», drawing on internal emails in which Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg agreed that his main reason to buy Instagram was to «neutralise a competitor”.
Debate on tech dominance is shifting, says EU’s Vestager
Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s competition czar, has praised the US antitrust action taken against Facebook, insisting the way big tech is viewed is beginning to change.
“It’s a sign that the debate on tech dominance has been shifting over the last couple of years,” she said on a call with EU lawmakers that was reported by Bloomberg. «You see that in almost every jurisdiction. You see it in Canada and Australia.»
The competition chief also said that the European Commission was working on tougher rules that will enable regulators to «be so much quicker» in taking action against the biggest names in tech.
Zuckerberg and his ‘super paranoid’ inner circle multi-billion dollar spend to keep Facebook on top
“This is the biggest threat to our product that I’ve ever seen in my five years here at Facebook,» the email read. «We’re all terrified.»It was October 4, 2012, and Facebook was already the world’s largest social network.
Having agreed to buy Instagram for an unprecedented $1bn (£750m) only seven months earlier, it was still recovering from a disastrous public float and racing to catch up with a worldwide shift towards smartphones.
Read Laurence Dodds‘ piece on how the social media behemoth splashed billions to neutralise threats posed by other companies.
Microsoft pledges more Xbox stock
Gamers across the country have been repeatedly disappointed by failed efforts to secure a new console ahead of Christmas, but more stock is on the way.
Xbox-maker Microsoft has insisted that it will replenish stock for its Series X and cheaper Series S machines.
«We can’t wait for everyone who wants to experience gaming on Xbox Series X and Series S to do so and are working with our retail partners to replenish stock as quickly as we can,» the company said in a blog post.
Stock of both Microsoft’s consoles and Sony’s PlayStation 5 have been very difficult to come by with online shops crashing due to demand.
Google’s Pichai apologises over departure of AI researcher
Google chief Sunday Pichai has pledged to investigate the handling of the departure of Timnit Gebru, a prominent AI researcher at the tech giant.
Pichai told staff that he had heard the reaction to Gebru’s departure «loud and clear» in a company-wide email.
“It seeded doubts and led some in our community to question their place at Google,» he said in the email that has been widely reported. «I want to say how sorry I am for that, and I accept the responsibility of working to restore your trust.”
The now-departed AI researcher claimed that she was fired last week for sending an email that hit out at the lack of progress in hiring women and minorities at Google, the New York Times reported. Bloomberg reported her sacking came after she co-authored a report that called out ethical issues relating to the tech that underpins services like Google Search.
Gebru is best-known for her work on facial recognition biases, having demonstrated how algorithms are better at detecting white faces than they are at black and brown ones.
SpaceX test flight ends in fireball on landing
SpaceX launched its shiny, bullet-shaped, straight-out-of-science fiction Starship several miles into the air from a remote corner of Texas on Wednesday, but the six and half minute test flight ended in an explosive fireball on landing.
It was the highest and most elaborate flight yet for the rocketship that Elon Musk says could carry people to Mars in as little as six years.
This latest prototype – the first one equipped with a nose cone, body flaps and three engines – was shooting for an altitude of up to eight miles. That’s almost 100 times higher than previous hops and skimming the stratosphere.
Five things to start your day
1) US government sues Facebook The Federal Trade Commission wants the tech giant to have to sell off its prized assets of Instagram and WhatsApp
2) Airbnb and Uber targeted by Treasury Tougher VAT rules could hit landlords and drivers
3) Pfizer vaccine data breached A cyber attack on the European medicine regulator meant data about the coronavirus vaccine was stolen
4) Google’s chief executive pledged to investigate an AI ethics row Sundar Pichai said he would examine how a top researcher at the company had left amid a damaging internal row
5) Airbnb priced its IPO at $68 It gives the company a valuation of $47bn, the biggest tech company to go public this year