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FTC

Senators Cruz and Hawley Demand Federal Trade Commission Investigation of Big Tech’s Content Moderation

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WASHINGTON, July 15, 2019 — Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley want the Federal Trade Commission to use its investigatory authority to demand internal documents and information pertaining to content moderation policies at major technology companies like Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and to release those documents to the public.

In a Monday letter to all five members of the FTC, Cruz, R-Texas, and Hawley, R-Mo., ask that the commission use its authority to compel production of documents related to “conduct” and “practices” concerning “how major tech companies curate content.”

“We write to encourage the FTC to exercise its section 6(b) authority to investigate how major tech companies curate content. As you know, you do not need a law-enforcement purpose to investigate these companies. The law provides the tools needed to force companies to give you the information necessary to investigate their ‘conduct” and “practices,'” Cruz and Hawley wrote.

In their letter, Cruz and Hawley repeat a number of false and claims and conspiracy theories centered around the idea that tech companies are actively working to suppress speech by conservative.

“[T]hey actively censor some content and amplify other content based on algorithms and intentional decisions that are completely nontransparent,” they wrote, adding that “possibilities for abuse in this area are alarming and endless.”

Cruz and Hawley describe the routine process of content moderation and search result curation that search engines and social media platforms need to engage in to have a usable website as “censorship” that is “impossible to detect,” and repeat a claim made by President Trump that major technology companies are working to prevent his reelection by suppressing speech by his supporters. No evidence has been provided to justify this claim.

“By controlling the content we see, these companies are powerful enough to—at the very least—sway elections,” read the Cruz-Hawley statement. “And we’re told we have to be satisfied simply with trusting them not to abuse this immense power…. Companies that are this big and that have the potential to threaten democracy this much should not be allowed to curate content entirely without any transparency.”

“These companies can greatly influence democratic outcomes, yet they have no accountability to voters. They are not even accountable to their own customers because nobody knows how these companies curate content.”

Cruz and Hawley have repeatedly argued that tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter deliberately censor conservatives. They evidence in support of support statements appears to be limited to the fact that some users who identify as conservatives have been banned from these platform because of the platforms’ enforcement of terms of service against hate speech and harassment.

Hawley has routinely decried technology companies’ immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — which prevents them from being sued for statements made by a user of their platforms – as “a special giveaway from government.” Hawley incorrectly argues that Section 230 was conditioned upon a grant of political neutrality.

The freshman senator, who previously served as Missouri’s Attorney General, recently introduced legislation that would eliminate technology companies’ immunity under Section 230 unless they can prove to four of five FTC commissioners that their content moderation policies do not disproportionally impact conservatives.

Berin Szoka, president of free-market think tank TechFreedom, said Cruz and Hawley’s demand for an FTC probe raised them to “new heights in hypocrisy.”

“It is, once again, utterly nauseating to see two Harvard educated [Federalist Society] members pervert the First Amendment into a sword by which to promote the agenda of their political tribe, rather than a shield against government meddling,” said Szoka, who previously testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject.

(Photo of Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz via Campus Reform.)

 

Antitrust

Republican FTC Commissioner Criticizes Biden Economic Officials as Detrimental to Agency

Commissioner Christine Wilson attributes poor results of FTC staff satisfaction surveys to the officials’ leadership.

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Photo of Christine Wilson, Randolph May, Noah Phillips and Maureen Ohlhausen

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2022 – On Friday Republican commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission Christine Wilson expanded upon released remarks criticizing the leadership of economic officials chosen by President Joe Biden as detrimental to the functioning of her agency and staff.

Wilson pointed to recently administered surveys of FTC staff on satisfaction in their jobs which showed historically poor results for the commission, saying attitudes towards the commission and its work peddled by its Chair Lina Khan, former commissioner and current director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Rohit Chopra and Biden’s special assistant for technology and competition policy Tim Wu are largely to blame for low staff morale.

“We saw Chair Khan’s arrival and a complete disregard for the rule of law and due process, not to mention complete disregard for staff,” said Wilson.

“We saw Commissioner Rohit Chopra arrive at the FTC and begin excoriating the agency and the commission and the staff as being lax and feckless for the last 40 years.”

Speaking at the Free State Foundation’s Annual Policy Conference with fellow Republican Commissioner Noah Phillips and former Republican chairwoman of the commission Maureen Ohlhausen, Wilson cast the commission as an entity in disarray.

She revealed a workplace where commissioners have often been given very little notice on items they will be considering on the agenda of the commission.

Ohlhausen noted a decrease in bipartisan activity from the commission that she felt was present as a long-lasting legacy of commissions past during her tenure as chair, and Wilson described “disdain and marginalization of staff by current leadership” as harmful to the environment at the commission.

Drawing on her recent remarks, Wilson hypothesized that new leadership’s economic worldview draws heavily on concepts from academic Marxism and critical legal studies, a school of thought of which the Republican-maligned critical race theory is an offshoot.

She states that these theories largely play into the view of new leadership that the FTC in the past has not brought nearly enough action to protect consumers.

Also on Friday, Wilson emphasized the need for federal privacy legislation and said she has heard of a “concerted push” in Congress for such legislation to pass soon.

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FTC

Biden Looks to Bedoya to Replace Rohit Chopra on FTC, Report Says

Staunch privacy advocate Alvaro Bedoya appears to be Joe Biden’s pick for the FTC, Axios reports.

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Staunch privacy advocate Alvaro Bedoya appears to be Joe Biden's pick for the FTC

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021—President Joe Biden is expected to bring on privacy stalwart Alvaro Bedoya for the open seat on the Federal Trade Commission, according to reporting from Axios.

Born in Peru and raised in New York, Bedoya attended Harvard University where he received his B.A. in Social Studies. He also holds a J.D. from Yale.

A longtime supporter of consumer privacy rights, Bedoya is the founding director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. Previously, he served as chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. While working in the Senate, much of his work centered on location and biometric privacy with regard to consumer protections.

As it stands now, there are three Democrats and two Republicans on the commission. In January of 2021, Biden tapped Rohit Chopra to serve as the Director of the Consumer Protection Bureau. Though Chopra’s term on the FTC expired in 2019, the commission allows incumbent members to sit until a replacement is appointed—in this case, Bedoya.

The Washington Post quoted Republican FTC commissioner Noah Phillips speaking fondly of Bedoya. “I don’t think of him as a person who just gets up and rants about entities he doesn’t like,” and described him as “without fail as bright and thoughtful a person as you could find.”

Phillips has been broadly critical of the direction he feels the FTC is going and has historically criticized political firebrands on both sides of the aisle.

As Big Tech faces mounting criticism from both Republicans and Democrats with regard to privacy, misinformation, and alleged censorship, Bedoya will be entering a tumultuous era for the FTC.

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Antitrust

FTC Commissioner Phillips Warns About Shifting Direction of Agency

Noah Phillips voiced concern about the scope and practices of the Biden administration’s FTC.

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FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, September 2, 2021 — Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips said at a Hudson Institute webinar on Monday that he’s concerned about the direction the competition watchdog is moving toward considering recent events.

Phillips said the left-leaning voices in Washington and the appointment of Lina Khan to chair the agency has left him wondering about the legacy of the last 40 years of competition regulation in America – which have been hallmarked by the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976. That legislation effectively gave the FTC the ability to review mergers and acquisitions before they were finalized, rather than afterward, which governed pre-legislation.

Under Biden-appointee Lina Khan, Phillips described how the FTC has done away with the process of early termination. In the past, this process made it unnecessary for every single company to provide advanced notice and advanced approval for mergers. “Historically, parties have been able to come to the agencies and say, ‘You’re not interested in this, can we just go ahead and finish our deal,’ and the agencies have said ‘yes.’”

He said this is no longer the case, and that every single merger must provide advanced notice and approval. “What we’re introducing is an inefficiency in the market for transactions that we have no interest in pursuing, just for the sake of it. I think that’s a problem,” he continued. “My concern is that it is making merger enforcement less effective, less efficient, and less fair.”

Phillips pointed to left-of-center and leftist voices in Congress, such as Rep. David Cicilline, D-New York, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, who, at the outset of the pandemic, wanted to ban all acquisitions and mergers—regardless of their merit. He described this view as falling outside of mainstream perspectives, but noteworthy nonetheless.

“I don’t think that is what most people believe,” Phillips remarked. “I don’t think that is what Hart-Scott-Rodino envisions.”

This webinar took place only a couple of weeks after Phillips spoke at the Technology Policy Institute’s 2021 Aspen Forum, where he voiced similar concerns, stating that he feared that this new direction would make it more difficult for the FTC to hear cases that it should, and defended the commission’s record against critics who said it was lax under the Trump Administration.

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