FTC chair aims to resolve Big Tech antitrust probes this year, ending investigations or taking action

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FTC Chair Joseph Simons speaks at CES 2020. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The last major antitrust case that the federal government brought against a technology company lasted many years, entrenching Microsoft in a lengthy legal dispute. But the inquiries launched by the Federal Trade Commission last year appear to be moving at a much faster clip.

In a fireside chat Tuesday  at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, FTC Chair Joseph Simons suggested that the agency could conclude its antitrust probes into Facebook and other tech companies this year. Simons brought up the high tech investigations when asked what would make 2020 a successful year for the FTC.

“This is such an important area,” he said. “We want to make sure these investigations are done thoroughly, that they’re done properly, and they’re done efficiently, and we either decide to bring an enforcement action or not. We want to do that in the best timeframe possible.”

Simons also said continuing the FTC’s record of “vigorous enforcement” would make 2020 a success.

If the agency does finish its Big Tech inquiries this year, it could result in serious revelations about an industry that has become a key issue in the 2020 presidential races ahead of the election.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook is part of her bid for the White House. Other candidates, like Sen. Bernie Sanders and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, have repeatedly attacked tech giants for anti-competitive behavior and treatment of their workforce.

The FTC and Department of Justice have reportedly divvied up the investigative responsibility for America’s biggest tech companies. Over the summer, Facebook confirmed it is being investigated by the FTC, which Simons reiterated Tuesday.

“We’ve already confirmed what Facebook disclosed, that we are in fact investigating them for potential antitrust violations,” he said. “We have other investigations going on, as well.”

Bloomberg reports the FTC is also interviewing third-party sellers on Amazon to determine whether the company is abusing its dominance.

Last summer, the Justice Department announced a review of the technology industry to find out whether there are violations of antitrust laws. No company was named in the announcement but DOJ said it would review “market-leading online platforms” with a focus on “search, social media, and some retail services online.” It’s safe to assume that the most powerful players in those industries, namely Google, Facebook, and Amazon, are under the microscope.

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