Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

FTC Creates Antitrust Task Force to Monitor Tech Industry

Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch:

This isn’t necessarily a precursor to some big action like breaking up a big company or imposing rules or anything like that. It seems to be more a recognition that the FTC needs to be ready to ascertain quickly and move decisively in tech matters, and a crack team of tech-savvy staff attorneys is the way to do it.

The Technology Task Force will live under the competition bureau within the FTC, the director of which, Bruce Hoffman, commented as follows in the agency’s announcement:

Technology markets, which are rapidly evolving and touch so many other sectors of the economy, raise distinct challenges for antitrust enforcement. 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.

That it is under this bureau and not the bureau of consumer protection gives a good indicator of its purpose. This won’t be a way for the FTC to, for instance, more closely scrutinize Google or Facebook’s shady user data practices. That said the lawyers are stated to have expertise in “advertising, social networking, mobile operating systems and apps, and platform businesses,” which I doubt they mention for no reason.

Spencer Dailey:

Notable: the timing of Facebook recently shutting down its Onavo/”Research” efforts completely (on Android too) — if buying competition is actually going to see scrutiny, maybe collecting all internet traffic of teens with root certificates isn’t as savory, business-wise?

Hamza Shaban:

The FTC is creating a team dedicated to monitoring competition in the tech industry. What jumps out:

1) That it’s 2019 and they’re only doing this now

2) A mandate to review mergers that have already taken place — Facebook/Instagram comes to mind

I’ve long harboured a feeling that a failure to interpret antitrust law beyond the simple question of dollar cost to consumers has been among the most detrimental forces in the tech landscape. For example, Facebook’s unabated growth and acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp have helped it become a single company with nearly twice as many monthly active users as China has people, but it is incapable of successfully moderating its own scale despite being effectively an international lawmaker for the communications of billions of people. Another example: Amazon controls much of the infrastructure of the web, yet it also competes with its own customers; Amazon’s music and video offerings are comparable to Spotify and Netflix, both of which use Amazon Web Services for some of their hosting.