The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) might not be strong enough to take on Big Tech anymore, says Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MI).
In a Feb. 10 proposal, the senator, who has made a name for himself pursuing the investigation of Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook, stated that Congress needed “to overhaul the FTC and bring it into the 21st century.” He wanted Congress to relocate the FTC to the Department of Justice, where it would be better supervised. This would be the “biggest overhaul of the FTC since its founding,” according to Hawley.
“[T]he FTC lacks teeth,” wrote Hawley. “Google and Facebook have acquired hundreds of companies in the last two decades, yet the FTC never once intervened to try to block any of these acquisitions.” Previously, when the FTC fined Facebook $5 billion, Hawley and several other senators objected, saying the fine was not substantial enough.
Hawley described the FTC as a “failed” project. He noted that “many high level officials” who worked for the FTC go on to work for the very companies they were supposed to police after leaving the agency. In order to prevent conflicts of interest, Hawley suggested a revision of the ethics code is needed. National Review pointed out that Hawley’s proposal bore some similarities to Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), which would ban lobbying by former government officials for four years after they left a government agency.
The FTC was also not designed to survey digital markets, which calls for “structural solutions.” Some of these solutions included replacing the five-member commission that currently supervises the agency with a director confirmed by the Senate.
A “Digital Market Research Section” would also be created within the FTC to focus solely on digital markets. Some possible topics for this section would include collecting personal data, curating content using algorithms or manually, selective enforcement of terms of service, and data collection against rival companies. First time offenders would be given civil penalties, which deviates from the current standard that prevents the FTC from penalizing companies until they have violated the law twice. State attorneys general would also be given authority to enforce the laws of the FTC.
Hawley’s proposal “kind of makes sense,” writes Vox’s tech branch Recode. The piece notes that Democrats have also been calling for the FTC to do more, and even the heads of both the FTC and the DOJ “have said that if they were to start over, it would probably be a good idea to put antitrust enforcement under one umbrella.”
Hawley and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) had written a letter to the FTC in June, asking for an investigation from the FTC into “how big tech companies curate content.”