FTC Chairman on Antitrust Enforcement: Big Tech Companies ‘an Area of Concern for Us’

 

WASHINGTON – Joseph Simons, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, told PJM that he has antitrust “concerns” about large technology companies but declined to discuss specifics.

Simons also said he does not know “anything” about the leaked draft of a proposed executive order directing federal agencies to conduct an antitrust investigation of the big technology companies.

Under questioning from PJM, two top Department of Justice antitrust enforcement officials declined to confirm or deny whether such an investigation is underway.

Simons was asked if there should be a federal antitrust investigation of companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

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“It’s not appropriate to comment on specific companies but you heard what I said, right, that this is an area of concern for us,” Simons said after his speech at the recent Georgetown University Law Center’s 2018 Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium.

When asked to describe a specific area of concern related to the large tech companies, Simons replied, “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say specifics like that.”

Simons added, “An antitrust enforcer should be looking in places where there is substantial market power or might be substantial market power, so these are places where that condition might be met and it makes sense to pay attention to those types of firms and those types of industries.”

President Trump was reportedly considering an executive order to direct federal agencies such as the Department of Justice and the FTC to conduct antitrust investigations into the practices of Google, Facebook and other companies for potential “online platform bias.” The White House distanced itself from the report, saying they didn’t write the draft and that it wasn’t an official policy document.

Simons was asked if the White House has contacted him directly or his agency about conducting a possible antitrust investigation of the tech giants.

“No,” he said. “I don’t know anything about it.”

Simons said there would be antitrust hearings on Google, Facebook and other large tech companies in the near future.

PJM caught up with Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard Powers after a panel discussion at the symposium and asked him if an antitrust investigation of large tech companies is underway at DOJ.

“Sorry, I’m not going to comment,” Powers said.

When asked if he is communicating with the White House about a possible investigation, Powers replied, “I’m not going to comment. I appreciate the effort, though.”

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch also declined to comment on the existence or potential of an investigation.

“I can’t comment. We never comment on any investigations whether they are investigations, whether an investigation is opened. If we have one and we close something we issue a closing statement, but I can’t say anything about that,” Finch replied.