FTC Drops Mark Zuckerberg as Defendant in Antitrust Lawsuit

Decision comes after the Meta CEO agrees not to try to personally buy a virtual reality startup at the center of a dispute.

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Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made virtual reality a primary focus of the company.

Brett Pearce/CNET

The Federal Trade Commission has removed Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a defendant in an antitrust lawsuit that aims to block the company's acquisition of virtual reality startup Within Unlimited.

The agency said in a filing in federal court that it had agreed to remove Zuckerberg as a defendant after the Facebook parent company's CEO agreed to not try to personally purchase Within Unlimited.

In July, the FTC filed a complaint with the US District Court for the Northern District of California to block Meta's acquisition of Within Unlimited, which makes a VR fitness app called Supernatural. The FTC argued that the acquisition, which was announced in October, would give Meta an illegally dominant position in the virtual reality market.

The Supernatural app and subscription service connect with a person's Apple Watch to track heart rate during workouts, much like Apple Fitness Plus. Supernatural uses video avatars of instructors in combination with motion-tracked workout routines. (Boxing was just added.) Supernatural sometimes feels like a ramped-up version of Meta's hit fitness VR music game Beat Saber. Meta acquired Beat Saber in 2019.

Virtual reality has become a prime focus for Zuckerberg. Last year, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, a nod to the social network's ambition to be a prime mover in the metaverse, a collective term for virtual worlds where people can work, play, socialize and spend money.

The FTC's lawsuit is part of a focus on antitrust in Big Tech under FTC Chairperson Lina Khan. Meta, which requested Zuckerberg's removal from the lawsuit, had previously argued that the FTC lawsuit was "based on ideology and speculation, not evidence."

A Meta spokesman declined to comment.