- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Tech companies love the fine print and lengthy terms of service statements that wear out readers. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg does not.

The judge ordered Meta to limit its “excessive footnotes” in motions its lawyers filed in defense against a Federal Trade Commission antitrust lawsuit.

Lawyers for Facebook’s parent company last week filed a brief with 19 footnotes, including one that ran longer than 150 words about how social networking could be used as a noun or a verb.

Judge Boasberg struck the tech giant’s motion and ordered Meta to refile before the end of Friday with “no more than five footnotes containing no more than 20 aggregate lines of text.”

The judge cited a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rule on excessive footnotes and said the use of footnotes in Meta’s case appeared to bypass page-count limits.

Meta complied and filed a revised brief with no footnotes, but it is not clear that the tech giant is winning the federal judge to its corner.

Earlier this year, Judge Boasberg rejected Meta’s request that the FTC’s case be dismissed. The judge previously dismissed a 2021 antitrust lawsuit by the FTC against Facebook, but he allowed a 2022 version to proceed and wrote “Second time lucky?”

The FTC has argued that Facebook has maintained monopolistic power in the personal social networking services market for at least 10 years and that it acquired Instagram and WhatsApp to neutralize competition. Facebook has disputed the allegations and fought against the FTC in court.

The antitrust headaches facing Meta are not limited to the federal judiciary and are not new. Congress is debating antitrust legislation that would alter Meta’s business and its platforms.

The House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel published a 450-page report on the dominant market power of Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google in 2020. Alongside its Senate counterpart, the committee developed a series of antitrust proposals that it is working to advance now.

Bipartisan authors of Congress’ antitrust push against Big Tech are focusing on enacting the American Innovation and Choice Online Act this summer. The bill intends to prevent large tech companies from highlighting their products on their own platforms to the detriment of their competition.

Alongside antitrust scrutiny, Meta is also facing a range of other challenges involving how its services handle privacy.

For example, Instagram’s top executive faced questions from senators last year, and there are multiple bills proposing new privacy laws that would affect it and other Meta platforms’ business.

States are digging into Meta as well, and D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine sued Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in May over alleged consumer protection violations.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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