Q & A: WHAT'S NEXT FOR FACEBOOK IN THE ANTITRUST CASE?
AppleMagazine|AppleMagazine #477
Could Facebook be forced to spin off WhatsApp and Instagram?

That’s what the U.S. government is seeking in a long-awaited antitrust lawsuit filed last week, the same day dozens of states sued the social media giant on similar grounds. Whatever happens, experts expect a long-drawn-out battle that Facebook is prepared to defend vigorously — and with enormous resources.

Lawmakers of both major parties are also calling for stronger oversight of Facebook and other tech-industry giants. They argue that the companies’ massive market power is out of control, crushing smaller competitors and endangering consumer privacy and choice. Facebook insists that its services provide useful benefits for users and that complaints about its power are misguided.

Here are some questions and answers about what the government actions against Facebook mean.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The short answer is: We wait.

The battle initiated by the Federal Trade Commission and the states could take years to resolve. At the moment, experts think it’s unlikely to end in a settlement, so it may be a fight to the verdict. And the two sides could spend months arguing over issues such as document disclosure before the trial even starts. Once it does, expect a slugfest.

Facebook has been “well aware” of the possibility for this antitrust challenge for some time and they have “the resources to make this a formidable challenge for prosecutors,” said George Hay, an antitrust expert and law professor at Cornell University. “The one thing that is certain is that the demand for antitrust lawyers and economists will increase.”

ARE APPLE AND AMAZON NEXT?

Justice Department prosecutors are pursuing a separate antitrust case against Google, one that mirrors its case against Microsoft 20 years ago. Microsoft lost that one, although it escaped a breakup when an appellate court disagreed with the trial judge’s order.

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