Facebook keen to add calling functions following amended FTC complaint

Facebook has reportedly begun testing a version of Messenger that will add voice and video calling to the world’s largest social network.

According to Bloomberg, which cited Messenger’s director of product management Connor Hayes, Facebook began letting select members in the US play around with the new feature on Monday. There’s no word on when it might be rolled out to all users though.

This development represents something of a homecoming for Messenger. It was originally an integrated part of Facebook, but was hived off into a separate app in 2014. Hayes said now the company wants people to be able to use Messenger simultaneously while using Facebook, providing a more holistic user experience.

It’s all part of Facebook’s effort to more closely integrate its empire, giving advertisers a single view of the same user regardless of which Facebook-owned service they happen to be using at the time. It comes nearly a year after Facebook enabled Messenger users and Instagram users to chat to one another, and six months after it extended Messenger to owners of its Oculus VR headsets. WhatsApp could prove a sticking point, with any attempt to open it up to other Facebook apps viewed as an effort to further erode the privacy of its users.

Wanting to offer a more closely-integrated experience is only half of the story though. Weaving a closer knit between its various apps could also thwart the renewed effort by US antitrust regulators to force a breakup of the company.

Last week the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an amended complaint alleging that Facebook illegally protected its monopoly in the social networking market by buying and/or burying any competitors, including Instagram and WhatsApp. The original complaint was filed in late 2020 but was dismissed by a federal court in late June on the grounds that the FTC failed to prove that Facebook actually does enjoy monopoly power in the US social networking market.

It is an eyebrow-raising complaint given it was the FTC that waved through those landmark acquisitions in the first place. Nonetheless, it wants to have another crack at it, suggesting that Facebook couldn’t handle the rise of smartphones.

“Facebook lacked the business acumen and technical talent to survive the transition to mobile. After failing to compete with new innovators, Facebook illegally bought or buried them when their popularity became an existential threat,” said Holly Vedova, acting director of the FTC’s competition bureau.

The FTC also accused Facebook of a bait and switch whereby it enticed budding developers to use its Facebook Platforms suite of development tools for their own comms apps, only to then adjust the terms and conditions to make it harder for them to compete with Facebook’s in-house offerings.

“Developers that had relied on Facebook’s open-access policies were crushed by new limits on their ability to interoperate. Facebook’s conduct not only harmed developers such as Circle and Path, but also deprived consumers of promising and disruptive mavericks that could have forced Facebook to improve its own products and services,” the FTC said.

The watchdog also said it is armed with new statistics that will help convince the court this time round that Facebook does indeed have a dominant share of the US social networking market.

“The suit also provides new direct evidence that Facebook has the power to control prices or exclude competition; significantly reduce the quality of its offering to users without losing a significant number of users or a meaningful amount of user engagement; and exclude competition by driving actual or potential competitors out of business,” the FTC said.

Of course, the thing to remember about all this, is that even if it is an unethical monopoly that cheerfully abuses its position, using Facebook is still optional. No one is forced into using it. Leaving Facebook will have no bearing on a person’s ability to respire, or ingest nutritious food. It’s just a dinky Website where people share pictures, videos and profile updates under the misguided assumption that other people are interested in seeing them.

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