Federal regulators are already investigating the company’s privacy practices. But the antitrust question has been rumbling in the background, with critics calling for spinning off WhatsApp and Instagram. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has called for breaking up Big Tech, as has Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook. Former Vice President Joe Biden has said that he is open to the idea .
Critics believe a breakup is needed because Facebook can squash competitors either by buying them or using its enormous resources to mimic services they offer — as it’s done with Snapchat, for example.
Facebook executives have been calling broadly for regulation, though nothing that comes close to breaking it up. In a recent statement, the company’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said Facebook “accepts that with success comes accountability. But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called for “new rules” in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.
Facebook has also stressed that it has competitors in messaging and digital communication, including Apple and Google.
New York University law professor Eleanor Fox said that because antitrust law focuses on companies that raise prices too much, and Facebook is free, it will be a tough to break up the business. And Facebook commands less than a quarter of worldwide digital advertising, well behind Google.
Warren, however, has laid out plans for legislation that targets companies with more than $25 billion of annual revenue. It would limit their ability to expand and force parts of their business to operate as separate entities.
As Google becomes a leading mail provider, search engine and advertising platform, federal regulators are starting to wonder if it needs to be knocked down a bit.