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On Friday, President Joe Biden signed a sweeping executive order aimed at reining in big tech companies that could fundamentally alter how they do business.
But the responsibility to enforce the order will fall on government agencies, but implementing the practices from the order could take them years.
The Federal Trade Commission, which already has big tech in its sights, is expected to be a likely battleground. But some observers are doubtful the FTC, which the bulk of the responsibility for the order falls to, can enact meaningfully change due to an era of deregulation the agency underwent during the 1970s and 1980s.
Since the advent of mainstream internet use, the agency has struggled to keep up with unfair practices online, especially in areas regarding user privacy, big data, and tech mergers.
Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association that holds Apple Inc., Facebook, and Google as its members, defended the tech community as a vibrant and competitive industry.
“Elements of this executive order threaten our global leadership and hard-won success,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Prohibiting these acquisitions will dry up venture capital, harm entrepreneurs and small businesses and make our economy less competitive.”
Democrat FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter tweeted in response to the White House’s fact sheet on the “anticompetitive” executive order.
“So excited about @POTUS’s EO on competition,” she said, “it is an ambitious agenda that will help our markets work better and create a more equitable economy for all people – esp workers, marginalized communities, entrepreneurs, small biz.”
One of the most significant parts of the order would encourage the FTC to establish new rules for online surveillance and the accumulation of user’s private data, which could massively impact big platform companies.
According to the White House fact sheet, “many of the large platforms’ business models have depended on the accumulation of [extraordinary] amounts of sensitive personal information and related data.” The order would also push for the FTC to bar “unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces.”
Though the White House didn’t point to any companies, in particular, it did cite that one of the practices internet retail companies use is to “see how small businesses’ products sell and then use the data to launch their own competing products,” followed by “display[ing] their own copycat products more prominently than the small businesses’ products.”
This, according to the White House fact sheet, would be barred by the FTC.
Proposed deals under the new order, including mergers and acquiring companies would now undergo more scrutiny. For the last decade, the White House said, “the largest tech platforms have acquired hundreds of companies — including alleged ‘killer acquisitions’ meant to shut down a potential competitive threat.”
FTC Chair Lina Khan and the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Richard A. Powers, released a joint statement, reading, “We plan soon to jointly launch a review of our merger guidelines with the goal of updating them to reflect a rigorous analytical approach consistent with applicable law.”