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FTC Chairman: Multiple Antitrust Investigations Will End in 2020

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FTC chairman Joseph Simons said at CES 2020 that the commission's antitrust investigations into Facebook and other tech companies will conclude this year, either by taking action against some of the companies or ending the investigations.

Simons said that: 

“This is such an important area. 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 time frame possible.”

He added that “vigorous enforcement” would make 2020 a successful year for his agency. That sounds like the FTC is leaning towards enforcement against the tech companies rather than concluding the investigations with little to no major changes.

The FTC has historically not been overly aggressive with tech or telecom companies. Its investigations have usually ended in no action or small multi-million dollar “record” fines against companies making billions of dollars a year and continuing to break the law even after settlements with the FTC were in place.

This seems to have changed last year, when the FTC fined Facebook $5 billion. It was still just a settlement, and critics have said it’s not enough to deter Facebook from its seemingly unending privacy violations. However, it was also a major increase in the type of fines FTC has usually levied against companies.

Furthermore, 2019 was the year both the FTC and the Department of Justice have begun antitrust investigations into multiple tech companies, something we haven't seen in many years, either. Facebook, but also Amazon, Apple, Google, and potentially others are being investigated over anti-competitive actions alleged by their smaller competitors who have filed complaints to the government. We should see by the end of the year how those investigations are going to conclude.