Last week, Mark Zuckerberg visited Capitol Hill to try and ‘win friends’ in Congress. It was his first big trip back to Washington since the contentious House and Senate hearings last year, where the Facebook chief was accused of sometimes treating lawmakers with disdain (who can forget ‘senator, we run adds’?).
The timing of his trip is starting to make more sense. Thanks to a flurry of federal and state investigations, for the first time in its existence, Facebook is facing the very real risk of being broken up. Several lawmakers have asked whether breaking Facebook into Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook wouldn’t be better for consumers. Facebook agrees that something should be done to regulate social media and other Internet companies, but it doesn’t think the bipartisan anti-trust movement that formed in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is the right path.
But given all of the scrutiny surrounding the company and its acquisition, Facebook has reportedly agreed to buy CTRL-Labs, a tech startup working on software to let people control a digital avatar using only their thoughts, for somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion, Bloomberg reports.
The closely held four-year-old startup has dozens of employees and has raised tens of millions in venture capital. Its only product right now is a bracelet that measures neuron activity to try and determine a movement that a person might be thinking about, even if they aren’t physically moving. The ‘neuron activity’ is then displayed on a screen.
Unleashing the power of the mind has always been of great interest to Zuckerberg, as has virtual reality and augmented reality. The company is developing a hands-free pair of AR glasses, and Zuck once said that Facebook would introduce a “brain-computer interface” allowing people to manipulate text with their thoughts.
Still, making a big, splashy acquisition right now is a bit like tempting fate.
Zuckerberg needs to learn how to read the room. Unless he believes these investigations are simply fleeting annoyances that will soon pass.