US FTC wants Zuckerberg to seek approval for any future mergers

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will continue to pursue a case personally against Meta Platforms chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg over the acquisition of a virtual reality app, a lawyer for the agency told the FTC's in-house judge on Friday (Sep 2). 

The agency has asked its in-house court to force both Meta and Zuckerberg to seek approval from the FTC before engaging in any future deals. The trial has been set for Jan 19.

The agency sued Meta and Zuckerberg in July over the company's proposed acquisition of Within Unlimited, the maker of the popular virtual reality fitness app Supernatural.

The case is playing out in two parallel venues: A California federal court has scheduled a 6-day hearing in December to decide whether to stay the deal while the FTC pursues its case before the agency's in-house judge.

At a hearing on Friday in the in-house court, FTC attorney Abby Dennis said the agency agreed to dismiss Zuckerberg from the federal case, but not the internal proceeding because it wants a broader legal remedy. The in-house complaint would block the Within deal as well as require Meta and Zuckerberg to provide advance notice and seek approval from the FTC for future mergers or acquisitions. 

Under US merger law, Meta only needs to notify the FTC and its sister agency, the Justice Department, when a deal is valued at US$101 million or more. 

"The FTC is making meritless claims based on ideology completely divorced from commercial realities", a Meta spokesperson said. "We will vigorously defend this deal in court and are confident the evidence will show that this deal will be good for people, developers, and the VR space more broadly."

A 2020 House probe into Facebook found the company acquired nearly 100 companies in the previous decade, only one of which was subject to an in-depth FTC review. The FTC's own study into acquisitions by Facebook and the 4 other large tech platforms found they bought or invested in more than 800 small companies that didn't require merger notification or review.

Meta's lawyer, Mark Hansen, said the company intends to ask the FTC to dismiss Zuckerberg from the internal agency proceedings. The company has also declined to offer a settlement to the FTC, he said.

"We believe the merger should be allowed and should go forward," Hansen said. BLOOMBERG



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