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U.S. sets high bar to settle Facebook antitrust suit -FTC chair

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FILE PHOTO: Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing in Washington
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, who promised tougher antitrust enforcement, said she would not rule out a settlement with Meta's Facebook, which the agency sued in 2020, but indicated there was a high bar for any agreement.

In an interview on Tuesday, she also criticized what she said was a large number obviously illegal deals and added she was not a fan of agreements to remedy problematic mergers with asset sales. Nor does she like behavioral remedies, when companies pledge a particular policy change for a certain number of years.

Under former President Donald Trump, the FTC sued Facebook in December 2020 alleging that the company acted illegally to maintain its social network monopoly. Asked about the likelihood of a settlement, Khan said: "We've laid out the relief that we think would be necessary. I think you can yourself calculate the likelihood of Facebook willingly settling for some of that relief."

The FTC has asked a judge to order Facebook to unwind its acquisitions of Instagram, in 2012, and WhatsApp in 2014.

"But of course, as an agency, we're always thinking about, you know, preserving resources, how to think about settlements, the trade offs against pursuing litigation, but this is (an) incredibly important matter for the agency, and we're serious about the relief that we're seeking," she added.

She was also critical of companies who brought mergers to the government that they knew could not win antitrust approval.

"We see companies propose illegal, facially illegal mergers at an unacceptably high rate," she said, adding that companies often know their deals are unlawful and propose fixes. "I think that's the wrong approach. I think we really need to be promoting an environment where parties are coming to us with clean deals, not with deals that are facially unlawful."

Behavioral remedies, like putting firewalls between certain sectors of a company, do not address underlying problems, she said.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by David Gregorio)

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