The Federal Trade Commission will launch a task force to monitor competition in US technology markets, commissioners announced today.
The task force will include current officials working in the agency’s Office of Competition to “enhance the Office’s focus on technology-related sectors of the economy, including markets in which online platforms compete.” . It will also include 17 staff attorneys who will be tasked with investigating anti-competitive behavior in the tech industry.
“The role of technology in the economy and in our lives becomes more important every day,” said Joe Simons, president of the FTC. “As I’ve pointed out in the past, it makes sense for us to take a close look at technology markets to ensure that consumers benefit from free and fair competition.”
“Technology markets … pose specific antitrust enforcement challenges”
The new task force comes amid mounting pressure for antitrust action against big tech companies like Facebook and Google. Earlier this month, it was reported that FTC officials have been trying to impose a multi-million dollar fine on Facebook for repeatedly violating a privacy agreement the two bodies returned to in 2011. A coalition of advocacy groups argued that a fine It wouldn’t be enough to incentivize Facebook to be more cautious with consumer data and it asked the FTC to force spinoff companies Instagram and WhatsApp to go back to their own entities once again. The groups argued that Facebook was too big to adequately take care of user data for the top three apps.
The discussion about retroactive merger reviews that can result in companies divesting from previously approved assets has been heating up in recent months. The Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee has been beefing up its antitrust arm and hiring big names like Lina Khan in academia.
“Technology markets, which are rapidly evolving and impacting many other sectors of the economy, pose specific challenges for antitrust enforcement,” said Office Director Bruce Hoffman. “By centralizing our expertise and attention, the new task force will be able to focus exclusively on these markets, ensuring they are operating in compliance with antitrust laws and taking action where they are not.”
Hoffman confirmed that the task force would investigate the consummated mergers, but could not name any specific investigation. When it comes to remedies for problematic mergers, Hoffman said the companies could “break down,” or could be forced to “spin off” previous acquisitions as new entrants to recreate the previous merger of markets.
Hoffman said the task force will work closely with the FTC’s Office of Consumer Protection when it comes to the enforcement of consumer privacy, especially where these issues come together.
“Our ongoing hearings on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century are a crucial step in deepening our understanding of these markets and potential competitive issues. The Technology Working Group is the next step in that effort, ”Simons said in the press release.
The Justice Department, which also has antitrust jurisdiction, is aware of the new FTC task force, according to Hoffman, and both agencies will continue to work separately on this front.