Look out, big tech: FTC nominees eye Silicon Valley for antitrust regulation
The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved President Donald Trump's four nominees for the Federal Trade Commission in February. The FTC, normally comprised of five commissioners, has been led by two Obama appointees for more than a year.
Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen and Commissioner Terrell McSweeny, pending a full vote in the Senate, are set for replacement by Republicans Joe Simons and Christine Wilson, respectively. Trump also nominated Noah Phillips, a Republican, and Rohit Chopra, a Democrat. The required 3-2 split along party lines means Trump will need to nominate one more Democrat to serve as the fifth commissioner.
The commission has emerged as a cybersecurity watchdog for businesses, and the scrapping of Obama-era net neutrality regulations in December reimposed the FTC's jurisdiction over broadband services. The challenges of technology were a constant thread across the nominees, each of which are eager to look into Silicon Valley and the integration of modern technology into the American economy and how it affects consumers.
Here's what you need to know about the people who might be making industry-changing decisions:
Simons is set to take over as chairman of the commission. He has worked with the FTC twice before, most recently as the director of the Bureau of Competition from 2001 to 2003. He previously served as a trustee for the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission, and for the last 14 years he worked as an antitrust lawyer in D.C.
Simons said that changes in technology and cyberthreats are one of the greatest threats facing the FTC, and the commission needs to "protect consumers without unduly burdening them or interfering with the ability of firms ... to use data to enhance competition."
Upon confirmation, Simons plans to turn the commission's attention to Silicon Valley and take a look at tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon.
"I believe that big is not necessarily bad. I also believe that big is not necessarily good," said Simons at the February confirmation hearing. "Companies that are already big and influential can sometimes use inappropriate means, anticompetitive means to get big or to stay big. If that's the case, then we should be ... vigorously enforcing the antitrust laws and attacking that conduct and prohibiting it."
Discussed identity theft and the vulnerability of military Active Duty and Veterans with @FTC Commissioner Nominees Rohit Chopra and Joseph Simons this week—both are excellent candidates and highly qualified to join the FTC pic.twitter.com/0WepaCf5QE— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) February 17, 2018
Wilson most recently served as senior VP at Delta Air Lines. She worked at the FTC for more than four years as a law clerk in the Bureau of Competition and as the chief of staff then consultant to former Chairman Timothy Muris. Wilson also has more than a decade's worth of experience as an antitrust lawyer.
Wilson, along with the other nominees, agreed with Simons's desire to probe tech giants, which have been receiving more scrutiny as their dominance of digital space grows. She said the FTC's R&D capabilities mean the commission can remain abreast of technology advancements and craft fitting enforcement policies and legislative recommendations to Congress and agencies.
On whether or not big tech should be subject to more antitrust scrutiny, Wilson said at the confirmation hearing that, "The antitrust laws, as written today, are broad and flexible and are capable of adapting to evolving technology, so I have no concerns tat this time about our ability to address the issues that may arise under the FTC's current jurisdiction."
.@SenCapito raises concerns about shifting robocall technology; @FTC nominee Christine Wilson says she believes agency needs to find technological solution and more "significant" enforcement authority to account for shifts— Jimm Phillips (@jimmphillipsdc) February 14, 2018
Chopra, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America, has a decade's worth of consumer protection experience, including stints as a special advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, assistant director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and an associate at McKinsey & Company.
Chopra emphasized the need to understand the marketplace dynamics, past and present, of large technology firms. "Large technology firms don't just compete with each other, they're competing with several other market verticals and sectors of the economy," said Chopra. "And this has been a real challenge for equity and debt analysts seeking to predict how industries will evolve, how profitability and market dynamics will occur."
Chopra also singled out the challenge of Big Data, rapidly becoming an integral part of the modern economy, and how it relates to consumer protection and privacy. If confirmed, Chopra and the other commissioners will examine the issue of Big Data in light of the commission's ongoing Equifax investigation.
Phillips has served as legal counsel on the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary to Senator John Cornyn, R-TX, for about five years, focusing on issues such as antitrust, intellectual property and privacy. He has also served as an antitrust litigator for several years.
On the issue of big tech firms and the power they wield, Phillips said, "I see the impact it has on the lives of others, including even my little children. I think the FTC has a very big role to play here in applying the law fairly and applying it carefully."
Sen. @JohnCornyn on his staffer Noah Phillips' nomination to the FTC: "A talented lawyer and dedicated member of my staff, Noah’s extensive work on the Judiciary Committee will serve him well in this role." Details on the nominees: https://t.co/JcE0d8ZfxF— John Hendel (@JohnHendel) January 25, 2018
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