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Antitrust and Data Protection Emerge as Top FTC Priorities During Senate Hearing

Jericho Casper

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Screenshot of Sen. Richard Blumenthal from the webcast

August 5, 2020 — The five leaders of the Federal Trade Commission testified together before a Senate panel for the first time in nearly two years on Wednesday.

The FTC is charged with maintaining a competitive marketplace and protecting consumers’ personal information, and members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation maintained that the agency has a significant role to play in the enforcement of antitrust and data privacy legislation.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., reminded the FTC commissioners that tech conglomerates Facebook and Amazon are within their purview, arguing that last Wednesday’s historic House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing brought about a greater sense of urgency to act.

This led FTC Chairman Joseph Simons to reveal that litigation against Facebook is currently ongoing.

Referencing Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, Simons reported that “breaking up Facebook is an option that is definitely on the table.”

When Blumenthal asked Simons when the American public can expect antitrust action against these companies, Simons replied that the agency has been giving out warning letters.

Blumenthal suggested that a better course of action for the commission would be to introduce legislation on the books, rather than continuously sending warning letters, “which is like starting over every time,” he said.

Simons revealed that no investigation into Amazon has been started as of yet, when Blumenthal questioned whether he believed it would be necessary to depose Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

The hearing was further aimed at ensuring Congress had done enough to empower the FTC to ensure the agency was able to act against big tech companies.

“We believe we need more authority,” Simons said.

Other FTC commissioners requested to be granted jurisdiction over common carriers and given the ability to impose civil penalties.

The commissioners urged members of the Senate to continue enacting data privacy and security legislation.

“The FTC stands ready to enforce a national data privacy law,” said FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.

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