The US antitrust regulator, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has filed a lawsuit to stop Meta (previously Facebook) from acquiring Within Unlimited, the maker of the VR fitness app Supernatural, saying the transaction would allow the internet giant to dominate the thriving virtual reality space. The government agency, led by new chair Lina Khan, who has been a vocal critic of corporate monopolisation, alleges that the proposed acquisition by Meta, led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is illegal given that the company is already a key player within the VR ecosystem.
The complaint alleges Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, could have built its own VR app to compete in the space but by choosing to buy a potential rival is limiting competition in a way that could lead to less innovation, lower quality, higher prices and less consumer choice.
The FTC’s lawsuit, against the company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, broadly targets Meta’s acquisitions of VR companies in recent years, accusing the company of embarking on a “campaign to conquer VR” dating back to 2014 when it acquired the Oculus VR headset manufacturer.
Meta first revealed the planned purchase last October in a deal that The Information pegged at more than $400 million (roughly Rs. 3,200 crore).
The FTC has now asked the court to temporarily halt the transaction, which Facebook said it plans to close on July 31. It also sought an injunction blocking the deal on antitrust grounds.
It is worth noting that CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that in the future, the company will popularise a metaverse — a more immersive version of the internet, where people can populate an alternative virtual world to go shopping, go to work and see friends.
In a press release, FTC Bureau of Competition Deputy Director John Newman said, “Instead of competing on the merits, Meta is trying to buy its way to the top. Meta already owns a best-selling virtual reality fitness app, and it had the capabilities to compete even more closely with Within’s popular Supernatural app. But Meta chose to buy market position instead of earning it on the merits. This is an illegal acquisition, and we will pursue all appropriate relief.”
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