The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday launched a new task force to examine competition among technology companies and whether past mergers are contributing to monopolistic behavior, intensyfing federal focus on a sector already under immense scrutiny over the industry-wide collection of consumer data.
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A string of recent scandals involving Facbeook, Google, Apple and others have highlighted, among other things, the extent to which some firms harvest and share customer information -- sometimes without explicit consent from users.
Elected officials have taken note and are in the early stages of crafting a nationwide privacy law. While details of the measure remain unclear and advancing such a package has historically been a difficult task for Congress given the large number of stakeholders involved, it marks the most tumolutous time period for an industry that has largely been able to operate unfettered over the past decade.
The announcement also comes after President Trump floated the possibility that some industry giants could be investigated by his administration after he accused several of bias against conservative voices.
“It makes sense for us to closely examine technology markets to ensure consumers benefit from free and fair competition,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement.
The task force is led by Deputy Assistant Director Patricia Galvan and Counsel to the Director Krisha Cerilli, and will include 17 of the agency’s staff attorneys with expertise in “online advertising, social networking, mobile operating systems” and other services.
Top trade groups said the creation of a task force was expected, but urged the FTC to exhibit restraint as it probes the industry.
“Hopefully the FTC will not be swayed by populist furor and instead confine itself to careful, objective analysis based on the reality that many technology markets tend toward concentration, and that this concentration is usually pro-consumer and pro-innovation,” the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said in a statement.
The think tank also warned against applying the traditional anti-trust analysis on companies like Facebook, which offer their platforms for free to consumers in exchange for gathering massive amounts of user data.
As the FTC ramps up its oversight of the tech industry at-large, the agency is reportedly close to levying a potentially historic fine against Facebook over revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm hired by the Trump campaign, improperly accessed the information of up to 87 million users.