Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, the last of President Donald Trump’s nominees for the Federal Trade Commission, said if selected she would keep a close eye on whether major tech companies are using anti-competitive or deceptive tactics amid growing concerns that they dominate their markets.
"Big isn’t necessarily bad on its own," Slaughter told a panel of lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the FTC. "But where you have extreme market concentration you have more opportunity for abuse of that market power," said Slaughter, who is chief counsel to Senator Charles Schumer of New York.
The five-member agency shares a mandate with the Justice Department’s antitrust division to enforce antitrust laws, while its consumer protection division acts against "unfair and deceptive" practices. Washington lawyer Joseph Simons has been nominated to lead the agency, replacing Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen. The nominees for the other seats are Republicans Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson and Democrat Rohit Chopra. All the nominees are awaiting confirmation by the Senate.
The FTC’s new leadership is poised to take over the agency at a time when big internet platforms are facing rising scrutiny in Washington and lawmakers, academics, and advocacy groups are calling for more aggressive merger enforcement to protect consumers. Among its biggest cases is an antitrust lawsuit against Qualcomm Inc. over claims the chip-maker illegally maintained a monopoly for semiconductors used in smart phones. It’s also investigating the massive data breach at Equifax Inc. last year.
Lawmakers have grilled Facebook Inc.’s founder Mark Zuckerberg for two days and the FTC confirmed last month it’s investigating to assess whether Facebook violated terms of a 2011 consent decree over its handling of personal user data that was transferred to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica without users’ knowledge.
In response to questioning about the agency’s Facebook investigation, Slaughter declined to comment directly, but added she thinks the FTC has a "very important role to play in policing allegations of either anti-competitive conduct or unfair and deceptive trade practices."
Tech giants such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook and Twitter Inc. are facing a barrage of criticism from policymakers around the world for a range of issues from failing to protect users’ privacy to allowing their platforms to be exploited by bad actors.
Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington asked Slaughter for her perspective on the General Data Protection Regulation, a new European privacy law that will force platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to give users much more control over what data they share.
Slaughter said while the new law, which goes into effect next month, was an "innovative" strategy for protecting consumer privacy, American regulators should watch its implementation closely.
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