FTC may try to delay Facebook’s plan to integrate its apps

Facebook’s stock took a dive on Thursday following a report that federal regulators may seek to prevent the company from more tightly integrating its social media products.

The Federal Trade Commission is said to be considering asking for a court order to delay Facebook from making the services it owns, including WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, interoperable with one another, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

Shares of Facebook fell more than 3 percent in afternoon trading Thursday after the news broke.

Facebook and the FTC declined to comment on the report.

In March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to unify the platforms as part of what he said was a bigger push to prioritize user privacy. But critics of the move fear that it could further entrench the company’s dominance and make it harder for regulators to break up the company in a potential antitrust lawsuit.

Asking for a court’s intervention, even temporarily, would make sense for regulators concerned about how Facebook’s prior mergers may have affected competition, said Gene Kimmelman, a former Justice Department antitrust official.

“If federal law enforcers think they have any possible case to challenge past transactions,” he said, “seeking an immediate injunction is critical to prevent Facebook from scrambling the eggs so much that they can’t be separated in the future.”

Earlier this year, Facebook agreed to pay $5 billion to settle an FTC investigation into the company’s privacy practices. The company has also disclosed it is under a separate antitrust investigation by the FTC.

The FTC isn’t the only one probing Facebook for possible violations of competition law. Investigators working for the House Judiciary Committee have asked the company to provide answers as part of a wide-ranging antitrust review of Silicon Valley, and the Justice Department has signaled it’s taking an expansive look into online search, social media and retail.

Meanwhile, a group of states led by New York is also conducting an antitrust investigation of Facebook, a number of attorneys general announced this year.