The Federal Trade Commission is beefing up its scrutiny of the technology industry through a new task force tasked with a broad mission to investigate anticompetitive behavior.
The FTC said the Technology Task Force, consisting of about 17 staff attorneys, will enhance its focus on technology-related sectors of the economy, including markets in which online platforms compete.
The group will not only conduct law enforcement investigations but also review prospective mergers in the tech sector and consummated mergers.
“Technology markets, which are rapidly evolving and touch so many other sectors of the economy, raise distinct challenges for antitrust enforcement,” Bruce Hoffman, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in a news release.
“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,” he added.
As The Verge reports, the new task force comes amid “growing pressure for antitrust action against large tech companies like Facebook and Google.”
Facebook has bought up numerous competitors such as WhatsApp and Instagram, while Google has become a dominant player in digital advertising and Amazon has faced accusations of anti-competitive behavior. “All three companies, as well as other major tech firms, have faced calls to break them up or at least soften their edges,” The Verge noted.
According to Hoffman, the FTC could remedy consummated mergers that are anti-competitive by breaking up companies or forced them to “spin off” previous acquisitions as new competitors in order to recreate the pre-merger status quo.
“The FTC, if it is to remain relevant, needs some way of assessing the evident competition problems in the tech sector and taking action when necessary,” Columbia University law professor Tim Wu told The Wall Street Journal. “The FTC needs to get past its laser-focus on consumer prices, and figure out what competitive harm means in today’s tech markets.”
The task force is modeled on an earlier program that targeted hospital mergers.