Facebook, Instagram are in the crosshairs of antitrust charges

The social network, a $16.6 billion acquisition by Facebook Inc., has been the subject of several antitrust investigations over allegations that the company unfairly pressured rivals into sharing user data, according to people familiar with the matter.

The charges include conspiring to suppress competition and unfair business practices.

The company has denied any wrongdoing. 

“We are vigorously defending our position in the marketplace,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Facebook has been accused of misleading advertisers about what users are viewing, what content they are interested in and what content is actually popular among its users. 

The Justice Department is investigating whether Facebook violates antitrust laws by conspiring with other companies to target advertisers.

A lawyer for the company declined to comment. 

While Facebook and Instagram have argued that the allegations are baseless and that their privacy policies are sufficient, some antitrust experts have argued the antitrust inquiry should be opened. 

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission said Facebook violated the Sherman Antitrust Act in a 2011 settlement after a former employee accused the social network of “market manipulation.”

The FTC investigation began in late 2011, and a jury found that Facebook violated Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, a section of the law that allows a company to avoid paying a fine or paying a civil penalty when it violates an anti-trust law. 

In its decision, the FTC said the social networking site was “clearly aware” of the alleged market manipulation. 

Facebook, Instagram and other companies have fought back against the FTC’s findings, arguing that the agency lacked jurisdiction. 

Under the Sherman Act, which prohibits an industry from charging higher prices to rivals because it is the dominant player, the government has broad authority to examine whether a company has engaged in anticompetitive behavior. 

On Thursday, Facebook, the world’s most popular social network with more than 80 million users, announced that it would take a $150 million charge of $1.9 billion to settle the FTC investigation.

The settlement includes the social networks agreeing to a plan to improve privacy policies and other issues.

The Facebook settlement comes a day after Instagram and Twitter announced a $30 million agreement to settle a separate antitrust investigation. 

After the Facebook and Twitter settlements, the Justice Department said it was expanding the probe to include allegations that Facebook engaged in deceptive conduct. 

It also said it is launching a new antitrust investigation into whether Facebook is engaging in anticommunistic behavior.