CES 2020: Simons Says Facebook, Other Tech Investigations Are Ongoing

Federal Trade Commission chairman Joseph Simons told a CES audience in Las Vegas that the FTC was still investigating Facebook for antitrust violations, and that the FTC's $5 billion settlement with the company is the thing he is most proud of over the past year. The other was the $170 million settlement with Google/YouTube over kids privacy. 

That came in an interview with Consumer Technology Association president Gary Shapiro at CTA's CES 2020 techstravaganza in Las Vegas Tuesday (Jan. 7). 

Related: FTC Installs New Competition Leadership 

The FTC is currently investigating Big Tech and Simons said it would be issuing guidance on how the FTC would be evaluating them under antitrust law, though he did not say whether that meant a new approach.  

Simons renewed his call for Congress to pass comprehensive privacy legislation, but does not favor a Democrat-backed proposal to create a new, separate, privacy enforcement agency. He said that would be a huge mistake and that the FTC has been enforcing privacy aggressively and creatively and has the experience, expertise and morale to do the job, with some help from Congress. 

He said that the FTC Act, which is 100 years old, should instead be updated, and that Congress should also clarify that the FTC can recover monetary damages, something a court decision put in some doubt. 

Simons said Congress needed to do privacy law in a way that does not discourage competition by entrenching large companies, as some have suggested Europe's GDPR privacy regime is doing. 

Shapiro said he appreciated that, and that his "big company" members also support smaller members having room to enter the market with a new idea. 

Related: House Continues Digital Antitrust Deep Dive 

Simons talked about the tools the FTC has to enforce privacy, which includes power to pursue deceptive advertising, in this case the privacy plans tech companies are encouraged to publish. It also includes the FTC's current review of big tech and whether it has gotten that way via anticompetitive methods. 

Shapiro pointed toward the "amazing things" those large U.S. platforms have done. 

Simons said he was not suggesting the government was going after companies just because they were big and successful. He said they have to have done something anticompetitive. He pointed out that given that the FTC encourages competition, if a company as a result becomes big, even to the extent of monopolizing a market, they should not be penalized for that success. "We don't just break them up because they are big," he said. "That would be bad policy." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.