FTC Targets Big Tech for Closer Scrutiny

The Federal Trade Commission has launched a task force to monitor competition in U.S. technology markets, with the added charter of identifying potential anticompetitive conduct and taking enforcement action if necessary, and vetting tech merger reviews.

The task force will comprise approximately 17 staff attorneys with experience in, among others, online advertising, social networking mobile operating systems and apps, as well as "platform businesses."

The FTC can pursue anticompetitive conduct under its Sec. 5 authority and file suit, or seek a settlement, if it concludes it has found it.

“The role of technology in the economy and in our lives grows more important every day,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons in unveiling the new FTC Technology Task Force. “As I’ve noted in the past, it makes sense for us to closely examine technology markets to ensure consumers benefit from free and fair competition. Our ongoing Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century are a crucial step to deepen our understanding of these markets and potential competitive issues. The Technology Task Force is the next step in that effort.”

Simons told the Hill back in October that protecting consumers from the potential anticompetitive behavior from dominant online platforms was a priority for the commission.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have expressed growing concern about the size of big tech, with some saying it has grown under the un-watchful eye of the government.

Department of Justice antitrust chief Makan Delrahim recently tried to provide some context for the growth of those edge providers. He said the fact that tech giants like Facebook or Amazon or Google are huge, or even if they are virtual monopolies, is not necessarily an antitrust issue unless they got that monopoly power through anticompetitive means or use that monopoly power anticompetitively.

The task force will be led by Patricia Galvan, deputy assistant director of the Mergers III Division, and Krisha Cerilli, counsel to the director, and be overseen by Director Bruce Hoffman, Deputy Director Gail Levine, and Associate Director for Digital Markets Daniel Francis.

“Technology markets, which are rapidly evolving and touch so many other sectors of the economy, raise distinct challenges for antitrust enforcement,” said Hoffman. “By centralizing our expertise and attention, the new task force will be able to focus on these markets exclusively – ensuring they are operating pursuant to the antitrust laws, and taking action where they are not.”

In addition to examining—and if necessary investigating–industry practices the task force will "coordinate and consult with staff throughout the FTC on technology-related matters, including prospective merger reviews in the technology sector and reviews of consummated technology mergers."

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.