SAN FRANCISCO: US market regulators on Wednesday went to court in an effort to stop Facebook-owner Meta virtual reality fitness app maker Within, a potential blow to the tech giant’s metaverse ambitions.
In a complaint filed in federal court, the Federal Trade Commission argued Meta is trying to illegally expand its virtual reality empire with the purchase of Within Unlimited, maker of fitness app “Supernatural.”
Meta has made it a focus to build its metaverse vision for the internet’s future, betting heavily on the interactive virtual world that the company believes will ensure its powerful position.
“This acquisition poses a reasonable probability of eliminating both present and future competition,” the FTC complaint said. “And Meta would be one step closer to its ultimate goal of owning the entire ‘Metaverse.’”
The social media giant said the FTC’s move defied reality, and expressed confidence that its buy of Within would be good for VR users as well as developers who make apps in that market. “The FTC’s case is based on ideology and speculation, not evidence,” Meta said in response to an AFP inquiry.
“The idea that this acquisition would lead to anticompetitive outcomes in a dynamic space with as much entry and growth as online and connected fitness is simply not credible.”
Yet the FTC called the acquisition “illegal” and competition bureau deputy director John Newman added: “Instead of competing on the merits, Meta is trying to buy its way to the top.”
Moving to block Meta
Meta is already a leading player in the virtual reality market, and its chief Mark Zuckerberg has stressed that the metaverse is key to the company’s future.
The Silicon Valley titan years back bought virtual reality gear maker Oculus and studios devoted to apps for use in digital realms.
Meta purchases have included a popular “Beat Saber” game in which players slash at oncoming virtual blocks in time to music. The FTC said that the suit seeks specifically to block Meta and Zuckerberg from getting their hands on Within Unlimited.
The Supernatural app made buy independent studio Within lets users work out in routines set to music by popular artists such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Coldplay in realistic, virtual locales such as the Galapagos Islands, the FTC said.
The complaint quoted Within’s as calling fitness apps “the killer use case for VR.” Oculus vice president of play Jason Rubin announced the deal to buy Within in October, not disclosing financial details.
Supernatural is to operate independently as part of Meta’s Reality Labs if the deal is consummated, Rubin said in a blog post at the time. Supernatural workouts feature routines synched to music hits, real coaches, and “stunning” virtual destinations from Machu Picchu to the surface of Mars, Rubin said.
Some tech world watchers questioned whether the FTC move had also sent a “chilling message” to developers who hope of cashing in when their creations are snapped upt.
“How does the FTC expect startup founders and employees to get any liquidity from their hard work if traditional exit method are going to be blocked?” read a tweet to the regulator from the @pachos account of Samsung Ventures America managing director Michael Pachos.