Facebook reportedly considering antitrust lawsuit against Apple

Greg Nash, Getty Images

Facebook is considering filing a lawsuit against Apple alleging the company has violated antitrust laws through an uneven enforcement of its App Store rules, according to reports. 

The lawsuit would be a culmination of an ongoing feud between the two Silicon Valley giants that has been heating up as Apple prepares to roll out an App Tracking Transparency feature that Facebook has repeatedly bashed. 

Facebook has been preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple that would allege the company abused its market power by forcing app developers to follow App Store rules that Apple’s own apps do not have to follow, The Information first reported Thursday, citing unnamed sources. The New York Times also reported that Facebook is contemplating the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for Facebook said the company will not comment on “suit speculation,” but doubled down on accusations that Apple is behaving anti-competitively amid the impending launch of the app tracking feature. 

“As we have said repeatedly, we believe Apple is behaving anti-competitively by using their control of the App Store to benefit their bottom line at the expense of app developers and small businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. 

Facebook’s reported decision to weigh the antitrust suit is especially precarious given the antitrust allegations Facebook itself is facing. 

At the end of last year, almost every state in the U.S. and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against Facebook accusing the social media giant of anticompetitive acquisitions. 

Jeffrey Jacobovitz, a partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP and a former antitrust attorney at the FTC, said there is a chance Facebook is considering the lawsuit to show the FTC that it is a victim of antitrust violations. 

In doing so, Facebook could argue it doesn’t “have as much market power as the FTC is alleging right now if they could be a victim,” he said.  

Facebook has ramped up attacks against Apple in recent months, especially over the App Tracking Transparency tool. Apple said Thursday it plans to roll out the feature in early spring, following delays in part spurred by Facebook’s pushback. 

The feature would require apps to ask users to opt in before allowing apps to track them across different websites, limiting the reach of targeted ads.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took shots at Apple’s market power during a call with investors discussing the company’s fourth-quarter earnings. 

Zuckerberg said the company “increasingly” views Apple as one of its biggest competitors. In addition to piling on attacks over the impending app tracking feature, Zuckerberg called out Apple for preinstalling its iMessage feature on its iPhones. 

“And now, we’re also seeing Apple’s business depend more and more on gaining share in services against us and other developers. Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own,” Zuckerberg said. 

His recent comments followed Facebook’s ad campaign launched in December targeting the tool as bad for small businesses, and branding the move as Apple prioritizing profit rather than privacy. 

An Apple spokesperson was not immediately available for comment, but Apple CEO Tim Cook this week fired back at criticism over the feature — without going so far as singling out Facebook by name.  

During a speech Thursday at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference, Cook touted the impending update as a necessary step to help protect consumers. 

“The fact is that the debate over ATT [App Tracking Transparency] is a microcosm of a debate we have been having for a long time — one where our point of view is very clear. Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed,” Cook said.

“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform,” he added.

Tags antitrust App Store Apple Apple Inc. Facebook Mark Zuckerberg Mark Zuckerberg Social media

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