It looks like Facebook’s anti-competitive bullying tactics may finally be coming back to bite the social media giant.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that current and former Facebook rivals are speaking with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission about the company’s practice of either snapping up its competition (e.g. Instagram), or creating products meant to elbow out those smaller companies altogether, as it has done in the past with competitors that rejected Facebook acquisition offers. One of those competitors is Snapchat.
According to the report, Snap’s legal team have spent years amassing a dossier of evidence that Facebook was engaging in anti-competitive conduct. Dubbed “Project Voldemort,” the documents reportedly allege that Instagram effectively barred users from linking to their Snapchat profiles in their bios on Facebook-owned Instagram, in some cases by suggesting to influencers that they could lose their verification badges for doing so.
Snap executives also suspected that Instagram prevented Snapchat content from trending on the platform and suppressed tagged posts and Snap-related searches, the Journal reported. Reached by email, a spokesperson for Snap declined Gizmodo’s request for comment about the report.
The Journal cited people familiar with the matter as saying that officials with the FTC have recently contacted “dozens of tech executives and app developers” as part of its probe into possible antitrust violations by Facebook.
In addition to speaking with individuals linked to Facebook’s current and former competitors, the Journal said, agency investigators are also looking into Onavo, the VPN service that Facebook acquired in 2013 and was subsequently pressured into shutting down earlier this year amid reports that it had been used to suck up boatloads of data about user app usage, among other information.
Last year, internal charts and documentation indicated that all that data Facebook was collecting on user app usage through Onavo helped inform the tech giant’s decision to buy WhatsApp following the realisation that the messaging app posed a potential threat.
As the Journal previously reported in 2017, Facebook used Onavo to monitor how people used Snapchats, such as with metrics about how many Snaps they sent a day.
Facebook did not immediately return a request for comment about the report.
Earlier this month, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced she was leading a bipartisan investigation into Facebook into potential anti-competitive conduct.
“Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers. I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk,” James said at the time.
“We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.”