WIRED: Critics Are Wary of the FTC’s New Tech Antitrust Task Force

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AS THE US wrestles with what to do about the tremendous power its technology giants have amassed, the Federal Trade Commission is launching a new task force, which will keep tabs on the industry’s competitive landscape and assess mergers both past and present. But critics say the creation of the task force is little more than an exercise in virtue signaling for a regulator that has lately failed to bring any meaningful action against tech monopolies.

In a call with reporters Tuesday, the FTC’s Bureau of Competition director Bruce Hoffman said the new 17-member task force will have the power to investigate both future mergers and finalized ones. Hoffman declined to name any specific companies that might soon face investigations, but this news won’t likely be welcome to companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. All of them have consolidated their respective markets in recent years, and are already facing increasing calls for antitrust action from the public and members of Congress.

“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,” Hoffman said in a statement. Those actions include breaking up firms that already have merged or requiring spinoffs.

While some tech critics, like former FTC chief technologist Ashkan Soltani, saw the announcement as a sign that the agency is taking antitrust issues seriously, others worried the task force amounts to little more than bureaucratic reconfiguring for FTC lawyers.

“I’m scornful of the new seating arrangements, because the FTC has consistently proven they do not want to wield power,” says Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, an antimonopoly think tank that has called for a breakup of Facebook. “They want to hold hearings. They want to get their friend economists and antitrust lawyers to fly into DC and talk to each other. They don’t want to do their No. 1 job, which is to police markets for unfair and anticompetitive behavior.”

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