Antitrust Agenda

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The go-to metric for antitrust enforcers has long been increasing prices. Critics, however, have begun to question whether that approach needs an update, given that tech giants like Google and Facebook offer free services. And this week, some of the nation’s leading antitrust enforcers made clear they’re willing to take a broader view. Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said his office will consider factors like privacy violations or free speech restrictions as signs that product quality and market competition have deteriorated. And a group of 43 state attorneys general echoed that idea in comments to the Federal Trade Commission, saying the agency should scrutinize proposed mergers for harms to privacy or innovation. But members of Congress may be seeking legislative changes. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, sees potential to modernize statutes “written more than 100 years ago” to keep large technology companies accountable. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has talked to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who heads the panel’s antitrust subcommittee, about launching a probe into competition in the tech sector. But Chairman Graham acknowledged that there’s daylight on the issue between himself and Chairman Lee, who said such an investigation would be best left to federal regulators. 

Progressive advocacy groups critical of Silicon Valley have lined up meetings with the majority of House antitrust subcommittee members ahead of expected further hearings on the market power of online tech companies. The goal? To equip Congress to ask better questions than it managed during this spring's oft-painful Zuckerberg sessions. “We're doing grassroots work in the service of making a hearing go well,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, which along with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is making the Hill rounds. Segal said the goal is to connect the dots for members between the ad-driven and acquisition-heavy business models of companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon and the choices those companies make on issues like privacy and election protection.

The group at the center of the antitrust storm