ANTITRUST

Investigations Of Big Tech Look Set To Multiply Across DOJ, FTC

Antitrust law

For Big Tech: More investigations, and broader ones, too. On a number of fronts.

News comes, as reported by The New York Times Monday (Nov. 18)  that the Justice Department may widen investigations into whether tech giants such as Facebook and Google have violated antitrust laws.

The potential for a broadened investigative scope came from remarks by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who said in a speech at an American Bar forum on antitrust law, “We do not view antitrust law as a panacea for every problem in the digital world,” and added, “We will not ignore any harms caused by online platforms that partially or completely fall outside the antitrust laws.”

The Times said the remarks were the deputy AG’s “most significant” on the ongoing probes into the competitive practices of the companies that have reach across commerce, social media, news and advertising. Rosen said law enforcement could look into privacy, consumer protection and other areas throughout its investigations.

The commentary by Rosen comes in the wake of Monday remarks by the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that multiple investigations into tech platform firms beyond the already disclosed look into Facebook’s operations – but those investigations have yet to be identified.

As reported by Reuters, FTC Chair Joe Simons said the Technology Enforcement Division (known as TED for short) has been focusing its investigations into other companies.

“We can say publicly that they’re investigating Facebook because Facebook disclosed that,” Simons said at the same American Bar Association antitrust forum. “I also want to say that TED has in addition to Facebook, multiple other investigations going on into major platforms.”

The comments from officials hinting at how and where the Justice Department and the FTC will bring their efforts come against a backdrop where strategy seems to be taking shape among dozens of state attorneys general.

Last week, AGs from a reported dozen states met in Colorado to discuss their investigation into Google.

And that meeting follows one last month where state and federal regulators met about their investigations into Facebook.

The broadened view of competitive practices also seemingly extends to data collection.

As reported earlier in the month by The Washington Post, Makan Delrahim, who helms the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said data has become the “oil” underpinning tech — and its misuse could harm competitors and consumers.

“Although privacy fits primarily within the realm of consumer protection law, it would be a grave mistake to believe that privacy concerns can never play a role in antitrust analysis,” Delrahim said, adding that “without competition, a dominant firm can more easily reduce quality — such as by decreasing privacy protections — without losing a significant number of users.”

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