U.S. FTC’s Bureau of Competition launches task force to monitor technology markets

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition announced the creation of a task force dedicated to monitoring competition in U.S. technology markets, investigating any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets, and taking enforcement actions when warranted.

To create the Technology Task Force, the Bureau of Competition will draw upon existing staff and expertise to enhance the Bureau’s focus on technology-related sectors of the economy, including markets in which online platforms compete. The creation of this task force is modeled on the FTC’s successful Merger Litigation Task Force, launched in 2002 by then-Bureau of Competition Director Joe Simons. The 2002 task force reinvigorated the Commission’s hospital merger review program, and also sharpened the agency’s focus on merger enforcement in retail industries, particularly regarding matters involving food, beverages, and supermarkets.

“The role of technology in the economy and in our lives grows more important every day,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons in a statement. “As I’ve noted in the past, it makes sense for us to closely examine technology markets to ensure consumers benefit from free and fair competition. Our ongoing Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century are a crucial step to deepen our understanding of these markets and potential competitive issues. The Technology Task Force is the next step in that effort.”

The new task force team will include approximately 17 staff attorneys. Task force members, who will join the task force from divisions within the Bureau, will include attorneys with unique expertise in complex product and service markets and ecosystems, including markets for online advertising, social networking, mobile operating systems and apps, and platform businesses. The task force will also include a Technology Fellow, who will provide important technical assistance and expertise to support the task force’s investigations.

The new task force will be led by Patricia Galvan, currently the Deputy Assistant Director of the Mergers III Division, and Krisha Cerilli, currently Counsel to the Director. The task force will be overseen by Director Bruce Hoffman, Deputy Director Gail Levine, and Associate Director for Digital Markets Daniel Francis. The Technology Task Force will work closely with economists from the FTC’s Bureau of Economics. In addition, task force members will coordinate with their counterparts in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection who also focus on technology platforms.

“Technology markets, which are rapidly evolving and touch so many other sectors of the economy, raise distinct challenges for antitrust enforcement,” said Bureau Director Bruce Hoffman in a statement. “By centralizing our expertise and attention, the new task force will be able to focus on these markets exclusively – ensuring they are operating pursuant to the antitrust laws, and taking action where they are not.”

In addition to examining industry practices and conducting law enforcement investigations, the Technology Task Force will, among other things, coordinate and consult with staff throughout the FTC on technology-related matters, including prospective merger reviews in the technology sector and reviews of consummated technology mergers.

Source: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission

MacDailyNews Take: Online advertising has been suffering from antitrust issues for years, so hopefully that really gets looked at and something meaningful will finally be done to restore real competition. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t bet the ranch on that happening.

As for “mobile operating systems and apps,” that’ll be interesting for Alphabet since they’ve already been fined a record US$5.1 billion by the European Commission because Google:

• has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store);
• made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
• has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”).

Google clearly breached EU antitrust rules as follows:

• Illegal tying of Google’s search and browser apps
• Illegal payments conditional on exclusive pre-installation of Google Search
• Illegal obstruction of development and distribution of competing Android operating systems

We’ll see what the U.S. FTC some up with there. We’re not holding our collective breath on this point, either.

SEE ALSO:
Why Google owes the European Union $5 billion – July 18, 2018
EU hits Google with record €4.34 billion fine for abusing market dominance – July 18, 2018

4 Comments

  1. Hmm, Apple almost entirely don’t allow customers to choose competitors’ RAM or SSDs, thus giving us no choice other than to pay Apple’s obscenely inflated prices if we need more than their stingy base offerings. I wonder whether that’ll come under the scrutiny of this task force?

  2. I had to read it twice, at first I thought it said…

    Illegal tying and exclusivity of Apple App Store.
    Illegally profiting by leasing their user base to Google as default without prior user consent.
    Forbiddance of alternate iPhone and iPad OSs.

    Regardless, I’m fine with either reading.

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