A US judge rejects Facebook’s request to dismiss the FTC’s antitrust suit

WASHINGTON (Reuters): A U.S. judge refused on Tuesday to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, saying the FTC had a credible case that should be heard.

Facebook, now Meta Platforms, asked Judge James Boasberg in federal court in Washington to dismiss a lawsuit in which the government asked the court to require Facebook to sell Instagram and WhatsApp.

The FTC’s high-profile legal fight against Facebook represents one of the biggest challenges the government has mounted against a technology company in decades and is being closely watched as Washington looks to tackle Big Tech’s vast market power.

“Ultimately, it is unclear whether the FTC will be able to prove its case and prevail at summary judgment and trial. “The Court declines to engage in such speculation and simply finds that at this stage of the motion to dismiss, at which the FTC’s allegations are treated as true, the agency has presented a compelling claim for relief,” Boasberg wrote.

The FTC originally sued Facebook during the former Trump administration, but its complaint was dismissed by the court. In August, the agency filed an amended complaint, adding more details about the accusation that the social media company had crushed or bribed competitors, and again asked a judge to force the company to sell the photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp .

Meta shares rose 1.9% on Tuesday, closing at $334.37.

In his ruling denying relief, however, the judge said the FTC could not make allegations that Facebook refused to allow interoperability with rival apps in order to maintain its dominance, arguing that those rules were abandoned in 2018, a policy that was even older.

Meta said it was confident the company would prevail in court.

“Today’s decision narrows the scope of the FTC’s case by rejecting claims about our platform’s policies. “It also acknowledges that the agency faces a ‘difficult task’ in vindicating its case regarding two acquisitions it approved years ago,” a spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Boasberg, however, agreed with the FTC that Chair Lina Khan, who voted to file an amended complaint against Facebook, should not have been forced to resign, saying her role was less of a judge and more of a prosecutor.

“While Khan undoubtedly expressed views about Facebook’s monopoly power, these views do not suggest the kind of ‘axe to grind’ based on personal animosity or financial conflict of interest that has disqualified prosecutors in the past,” Boasberg wrote.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Marguerita Choy and Richard Pullin)