Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified this month at a Federal Trade Commission investigative hearing as part of the agency’s antitrust investigation into the social network, according to three people familiar with the case.
FTC staff often interview witnesses under oath as part of their investigations in a process similar to deposition and nearly always in cases they expect to lead to a lawsuit. The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the probe, said the step doesn’t necessarily signal that the agency will ultimately pursue an antitrust lawsuit.
Nevertheless, the testimony, conducted under oath and remotely over the course of two days this week, could be used to help the FTC and state attorneys general build a case against the social network. Staff from the states were also involved in the hearing, according to one of the people.
Zuckerberg testified in July before a House panel as part of an antitrust probe of the tech industry, where he faced stiff questioning about the company’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. In one terse exchange, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) questioned whether Zuckerberg threatened to copy rivals if they didn’t agree to sell to the tech giant, reading directly from text messages between Zuckerberg and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom and from messages between Systrom and a venture capitalist.
Zuckerberg denied that he had threatened Systrom — who sold Instagram to Facebook for $1 billion in 2012 and left the company in 2018 — or Evan Spiegel, the CEO of rival photo-sharing app Snap. Spiegel has reportedly rebuffed Facebook acquisition offers at least twice.
The FTC faced significant criticism for not seeking to interview Zuckerberg — the company’s controlling shareholder in addition to its chairman and CEO — as part of an earlier investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
At an Aug. 5 Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing, FTC Chair Joe Simons declined to say whether the agency was planning to interview Zuckerberg in its antitrust probe. But he defended the FTC’s decision not to seek testimony under oath in its earlier privacy case.
“Sometimes it’s important to depose the CEO, and sometimes it’s not necessary. When it’s important we do it,” Simons told senators. In the privacy case, “we had emails from lots and lots of people. We did not need Zuckerberg in a deposition for that case.”
Facebook eventually paid $5 billion to settle that probe and several internal changes including the creation of an independent committee to oversee the company’s privacy decisions. The FTC said the settlement would give it “unparalleled access to Facebook’s decision-making.”
“We are committed to cooperating with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s inquiry and answering the questions the agency may have,” Facebook spokesperson Chris Sgro said.
The FTC declined to comment.