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U.S. Antitrust Cops Unveil Data Backing Facebook Monopoly Case

Sept. 8, 2021, 11:22 PM

U.S. antitrust officials made public for the first time the data they’re using to bolster their case that Facebook Inc. has monopoly power over social networking.

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday revealed figures that it said shows Facebook is far and away the most dominant company in the market. The numbers had been redacted in an earlier complaint.

From September 2012 through December 2020, Facebook’s share of time spent by users of social media apps in the U.S. has averaged 92% per month, according to a filing in federal court in Washington. The combined shares of other apps, including Snapchat, Google+, MeWe and Friendster, didn’t exceed 18% in any month during that period.

The data is included in the FTC’s monopoly lawsuit against Facebook, which accuses the company of abusing its dominance. The case was initially dismissed in June by a federal judge who said the agency failed to detail its claim that Facebook is a dominant player. The FTC filed a revised complaint in August with the user data redacted.

The data may not be enough to satisfy U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who wrote in his dismissal that information on daily and monthly average users might “significantly overstate or understate any one firm’s market share depending on the various proportions of users who have accounts on multiple services.” He also said total time spent on the platform may be a metric of “limited utility.”

The judge’s dismissal underscored the difficulty of defining the contours of the social networking market, which companies should be included and finding the right metrics to measure it. Consumer technology companies have always defined and self-reported their growth metrics. Most companies report their overall user numbers, but there is no way to know how many people use multiple services.

The FTC’s data is from Reston, Virginia-based Comscore Inc., a market research firm that measures audience and consumer data. The agency said Facebook uses Comscore data to prepare materials for Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg. Comscore didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment after hours.

Facebook declined to comment about the FTC’s filing and referred to an earlier statement that the lawsuit is without merit. Some portions of the FTC filing remain blacked out.

The FTC said Snap Inc.’s Snapchat is a distant No. 2 in the market for “personal social networking services” in the U.S.

From September 2016 through December 2020, Facebook’s share of daily average users among social networking apps averaged 80% per month for smartphones, 86% per month in tablets, and 98% per month for desktop computers. Facebook’s share hasn’t dropped below 70% in any month on any type of device, the FTC said. Only Snapchat reached a share higher than 10% on any device, according to the complaint.

The FTC doesn’t include Chinese-owned video-streaming service TikTok in the market. According to newly revealed internal communications included in the complaint, Facebook doesn’t consider the video app as a competitor either. In January 2019, Facebook assessed internally that TikTok is “not directly competing in the core areas of focus for our business” and that “TikTok is not hired for sharing with friends and family,” according to the complaint.

To contact the reporter on this story:
David McLaughlin in Washington at dmclaughlin9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Sara Forden at sforden@bloomberg.net

Andrew Pollack

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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