Meta asks more than 100 companies including TikTok for confidential data

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, said it needs rivals to divulge some of the most confidential information in order to fend off an antitrust lawsuit by the U.S. federal government. So far, Meta has issued subpoenas to 132 companies for documents, including TikTok, Snap, and audio startup Clubhouse, and warned that another 100 companies could be asked for information. The subpoenas have faced a string of legal challenges from Meta's rivals, who have accused Meta of mining their confidential data under the pretext of an antitrust lawsuit.

Court documents show that Meta is seeking documents related to some of the most important and sensitive factors involved in how competitors conduct business, including how they acquire users, scale their products and make money from features. Meta also wants information on competitors' marketing and sales strategies, quality metrics, contact details for the biggest advertisers, and details on attracting users from competitors.

Meta's search for this information stemmed from an antitrust lawsuit brought against the company by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2020. The FTC alleges that Meta partially cornered the social networking market by acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp. Meta countered the FTC's monopoly allegations, arguing that the social networking market is evolving, exemplified by rising stars such as TikTok and Clubhouse. A trial in the lawsuit isn't expected until 2024 at the earliest, but both sides are gathering evidence.

Kellie Lerner, an antitrust litigator at Robbins Kaplan LLP who was not involved in Meta's lawsuit, argued that Meta's request was seeking access to a large amount of competitively sensitive information. There is a company that has been accused of anticompetitive behavior, but now it is seeking access to very competitively sensitive information. The sheer breadth of evidence they are trying to get through discovery is unusual in my opinion.

Snap was one of the companies most strongly opposed to Meta's subpoena. The company said in court filings that Meta's request was "overbroad and an abuse of power." Snap is a key player in the FTC lawsuit and a company that Meta has previously tried to acquire. A federal judge in California will decide on Tuesday how much information Snap must turn over to help Meta's defense.

TikTok also complained that Meta had been seeking access to its "most confidential and highly sensitive business information." In addition, Pinterest, Microsoft-owned LinkedIn and others have raised concerns about Meta's "highly intrusive" requests, which they say seek to obtain their "most competitive sensitive documents."

TikTok is concerned that Meta's lawyers could inadvertently leak information that could be exploited by the company, which has a history of copying rival features and tactics. Previously, Meta copied Snapchat's "Stories" feature and TikTok's short-video mode on Facebook and Instagram. Meta is currently considering changing the user's content feed by mimicking TikTok.

In response, Meta responded in court filings that it needed information from competitors to refute the FTC's assertion that it was a monopoly and did not face competition. "Meta competes fiercely with many companies to help people share, connect, communicate, or simply for entertainment," said Meta spokesman Christopher Sgro, "as it prepares to defend the FTC lawsuit. In reasonable steps, we have served subpoenas to companies that compete with us or that we believe have other information relevant to the FTC's allegations."

Other companies Meta subpoenaed include Match Group, the parent company of dating app Tinder, Twitter, Reddit, and Oracle. Meta's request isn't limited to U.S. social networking services. It has also sought information from chat app Line and Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten Group. Line, jointly owned by SoftBank and Naver Corp, is the largest instant messaging service company in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. Rakuten Group owns Viber, a messaging app popular in India, Ukraine, and Russia.

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