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COVID-19 Could Delay Tech Antitrust Probes

 |  March 26, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic could delay the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust investigation of tech companies because of workplace changes in both agencies. 

The FTC is conducting investigations into big tech companies, including reviews of a decade’s worth of acquisitions for Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet. These purchases were too small to warrant review at the time of acquisition. The DOJ is also looking at the practices of online platforms. Currently, work for these investigations will be occurring remotely. 

“It’s just impossible for FTC lawyers and economists to work at the same pace from home — and that’s necessarily going to slow the progress of the inquiries down,” former Federal Trade Commission chair and current George Washington University law professor, William Kovacic told Protocol. “I would expect all of the timetables that authorities have developed are going to be stretched out.” 

An FTC spokesperson stated it “is adjusting to these new and challenging circumstances” and the vast majority of employees are working from home. Agency employees, much like millions of others, are adjusting to the new normal, juggling work and other needs, such as taking care of children who are now home because schools are closed. 

Tad Lipsky, director of the Competition Advocacy Program at the Global Antitrust Institute at George Mason University, stated that the “ubiquity of digitization” indicates that “it shouldn’t be too difficult for many forms of antitrust enforcement to occur without requiring physical proximity of human beings.” However, “key points in the process” could be challenging to do from home, including tasks requiring physical access to records and offices.  

“Almost all internal and external meetings will be handled by telephone or videoconference, and parties should assume that meetings will be held remotely, rather than in person, until further notice,” FTC Executive Director David Robbins said. “Despite these procedural changes, the FTC will be conducting the business of the Commission without interruption.”

The FTC has canceled “noncritical” travel, prohibited unplanned visitors, and the vast majority of employees are working remotely with “limited exceptions.” There have also been some deadline shifts, such as postponing depositions to ensure they occur over secure videoconferencing and adding 30 days for pending or proposed mergers for review. The deadline shifts show this is impacting efficiency. “Agencies around the world are basically indicating that the various measures to keep people out of the office and in their homes will slow the efficiency of enforcement and investigation,” Kovacic said.

Full Content: Law Street Media

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