Meta has lost an attempt to dismiss a US Federal Trade Commission antitrust lawsuit which could force the company to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.
Judge James Boasberg has ruled the FTC had a plausible case against the Facebook owner that should be allowed to proceed, although he did not suggest that it would be successful.
"Ultimately, whether the FTC will be able to prove its case and prevail at summary judgment and trial is anyone's guess," he wrote.
"The court declines to engage in such speculation and simply concludes that at this motion-to-dismiss stage, where the FTC's allegations are treated as true, the agency has stated a plausible claim for relief," he added.
The case is one of the most significant in the US government's ongoing efforts to rein in the perceived power and market dominance of the big technology companies.
It began during Donald Trump's term in office but an original complaint had been rejected by the court, although the case was allowed to stand, permitting the FTC to file an amended complaint.
The FTC alleges that Meta engaged in a "systematic strategy" to eliminate competition, including by purchasing up-and-coming rivals such as Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said when filing the suit that Facebook "used its monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users".
In a statement Meta said it expected to win the case as it proceeded to court.
"Today's decision narrows the scope of the FTC's case by rejecting claims about our platform policies. It also acknowledges that the agency faces a 'tall task' proving its case regarding two acquisitions it cleared years ago," the company stated.
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