The Federal Trade Commission has decided to sue Facebook-sorry-Meta in an attempt to stop the company and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, from monopolizing the virtual reality market. This is part of a larger position the FTC is assuming to block Zuckerberg’s wider play for the metaverse. But, this case is far from straightforward and its nuances — with significant implications — are going undiscussed.
FTC Files Lawsuit Against Meta Over VR App Acquisition and Metaverse Monopoly
The news has spread quickly around traditional mainstream media and Web3 media alike. The former frothing and foaming at the $2.8B metaverse division loss in Q2 and the lawsuit as a cherry on top, the latter beaming over anti-monopoly laws blocking Meta’s play for the metaverse.
In an official announcement, the FTC has filed a suit against Meta to block their acquisition of a VR fitness app, as they believe it is part of a plan to monopolize VR rather than engage in an environment of healthy competition. This is a criticism that has been leveled against Facebook on many occasions, particularly with Instagram and WhatsApp. The second issue the FTC raises is absent from the announcement, but present in the filed complaint: that Meta is trying to monopolize the metaverse.
Meta in recent years has set its sights on building, and ultimately controlling, a VR “metaverse.” One need look no further than the rebranding of the company from Facebook to “Meta” in 2021 to understand its vision—and its priorities—for the future. And Meta is serious about its goals: it has become the largest provider of VR devices and apps to customers in the United States.
The filing goes on to double down on the metaverse comment by adding, “And Meta would be one step closer to its ultimate goal of owning the entire ‘Metaverse.'”
The Good, the Odd, and the Unspoken Inference
This is a complicated matter that has been a little oversimplified by many media outlets. The headline might be straightforward, but there are implications and inferences that warrant some examination.
The first point to make is that this sort of lawsuit ought to be welcomed by most. Facebook has a history of buying its competition to expand its influence and control. The play for the metaverse by Zuckerberg has been most noteworthy for how artless and brash it has been, starting with the name change.
The fact that the FTC is continuously combative with Facebook’s approach to business is encouraging. They are whaling around hoovering up smaller companies like plankton, and some of the plankton is pretty damned massive. The idea of rivalries and healthy competition in business is one we ought to cherish as consumers.
As pleasing as FTC taking on Meta is, the filing is a strange read in places — namely, wherever they use the term “metaverse”. We are still in the foetal stages of forming a metaverse and nobody — regardless of how confident they might be when they try — can define it, let alone explain what sort of shape it will take.
So, it strikes me as a little odd that anybody could argue that a company is trying to monopolize something we can’t even define, much less point to. My legal training extends about as far as watching a few seasons of Suits, but I can’t imagine it will be easy to present a compelling argument for Meta looking to create a monopoly on something that doesn’t exist and the mere term is blurrier than Piers Morgan’s morals.
The Unspoken Inference
This brings me neatly to the unspoken inference of this filing: that the metaverse is intrinsically linked with VR. That is, the metaverse will be in VR. I see little to no evidence, outside of Ready Player One and Black Mirror, that our vague vision of the metaverse has VR in its foundations. Even if we could agree, broadly, on what the metaverse is, I certainly wouldn’t agree that VR is a necessity for it.
Though I don’t believe the metaverse has to exist in VR, I do think the two have a future together and I hope they do. However, I suspect that is further in the distance than many expect; VR has been the next big thing since the 1960s, and here we are, with it still just a thing trying to make it big.
This story is going to take a while to play out, but it’s worth following. I’m interested to see how much of a role the “metaverse” plays in the case and how VR and the metaverse are linked in this narrative of a wider monopoly. While I generally support any pushback against Facebooks’s approach of absorbing competition, Zuckerberg has become a cartoon villain in recent years and the media cannot wait to take him down a peg, with this lawsuit being reported in the same way.
We can’t define the “metaverse” yet, but we can sue people about it. Early Web3 is nothing if not fascinating.