The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced “the launch of an antitrust task force to focus on competition in the tech sector and consider challenging mergers and tie-ups retroactively”. This statement of action is part of a wider concern among those in the United States and around the world that large companies — predominantly tech giants — are becoming monopolies. While the FTC refused to give any details about the organizations it would be investigating, they did say that there would be an examination of links between commercial companies, even ones that have actually been through the completion process. They also want to consider the implications and prospects of potential divestitures. As the FTC’s antitrust task force is currently targeting tech giants, this announcement definitely has ramifications for attorneys.
How Will the FTC’s Antitrust Task Force Affect Attorneys?
The head of the Federal Trade Commission’s competition bureau is Bruce Hoffman. He says that the FTC will examine “the full panoply of remedies” — of which breakups and spinoffs are two examples — to deal with any “competitive harm” that might be taking place among companies in the technology sector. He did not mention whether the Facebook takeover of Instagram would be considered. This last point is of particular concern since Facebook has been in hot water quite a bit over the last year or two. This could have a serious effect on their attorneys as the FTC targets tech giants more actively. One has to question whether any new regulations will be handed down. If so, attorneys will certainly have their work cut out for them.
Bruce Hoffman went on: “Technology markets, which are rapidly evolving and touch so many other sectors of the economy, raise distinct challenges for antitrust enforcement. 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.” With the FTC’s antitrust task force explicitly targeting tech giants, what it means for attorneys is rather simple: they need to assure that their clients are operating within the law as it currently stands.
This particular strategy from the FTC is actually a reboot of sorts from previous attempts to investigate Google’s monolithic search superiority. The chairman of the FTC, Joe Simons, says that he decided to initiate the task force following a string of antitrust enforcement hearings. Simons said, “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.”
All this makes sense for the organization at this time. Major tech giants seem to control nearly every active space in the field. Google controls search. Apple and Microsoft control both personal and business computers. Amazon controls retail (and potentially grocery). Facebook controls social media. It is almost a truism at this point that these tech companies are giants.
That being said, it is vital that attorneys consider where this leaves them. Even though no specific action has been taken yet, it is still up to these companies’ attorneys to be aware of any new developments as quickly as possible. The FTC’s antitrust task force targeting tech giants means that attorneys may have to reconsider certain aspects of the antitrust litigation environment, should the FTC decide to take action or impose new regulations on these companies. If not, they still need to be on their toes, ensuring that all antitrust laws are being followed as closely as possible so as not to warrant any suspicion or legal action.