Home » Biden to Urge More Scrutiny of Tech Mergers and Data Privacy

Biden to Urge More Scrutiny of Tech Mergers and Data Privacy

by Arifa Rana

The executive order is the president’s latest acknowledgement of worries that tech behemoths have amassed undue market influence.

President Biden is likely to sign an executive order on Friday encouraging federal agencies to rein the major digital companies’ growth, Credit… The New York Times/Sarahbeth Maney

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As part of a larger executive order intended at dispersing corporate consolidation throughout the economy, President Biden will urge government authorities to crack down on how major internet corporations develop through mergers and acquire a competitive edge by using gobs of customer data on Friday.

According to persons familiar with the executive order’s contents, it includes many measures aimed directly at giant tech corporations including as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon.

The directive will instruct government authorities that authorize mergers to examine the practices of the tech industry more rigorously. A second component will push the Federal Trade Commission to create rules restricting how internet giants handle consumer data, in response to concerns that corporations like Amazon can exploit what they know about customers to gain an advantage over competing services and businesses.

Mr. Biden’s order is the latest acknowledgement of worries that tech behemoths have amassed undue market power, transforming themselves into gatekeepers of commerce, communications, and culture. For more than a decade, a rising number of lawmakers, researchers, and competitors claim that government regulators have failed to rein in the corporations’ growth. They argue that authorities should actively enforce antitrust laws and possibly modify them to better capture Silicon Valley’s business models in order to confront the corporations’ market strength.

Mr. Biden has already put some strong critics of Big Tech in top roles. Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor and ardent proponent of splitting up businesses like Facebook, was named a special adviser on competition in the White House. Lina Khan has been selected as the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Khan has also advocated for the separation of large internet companies and worked on an antitrust probe into Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by the House of Representatives.

Critics of Big Tech frequently contend that the economy as a whole has become more consolidated, harming consumers in industries such as agriculture, health, and fashion. Some White House officials think the directive would harken back to FDR’s presidency, when he emphasized the rise of large industry and installed anti-concentration government officials, according to sources.

His administration, on the other hand, has a restricted reach. The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are two separate government entities that enforce antitrust and communications laws. Those laws haven’t altered much since the internet’s widespread usage.

In 2017, protesters gathered in front of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., as the commission prepared to vote on net neutrality. Credit… Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster

House members have proposed a number of bills to give the agencies more power, but they are anticipated to face stiff opposition. The new directives, which are anticipated to be announced in full on Friday, do not require an act of Congress to enhance the agencies’ powers, according to White House officials and people familiar with their contents. They claim that regulators have been slow to enforce current regulations and create new ones in many circumstances.

Mergers between giant tech corporations and small startups that could become tough competitors are one of the targets of the executive order, which aims to suffocate a competition before it even gets off the ground. The directions encourage the agencies to reassess the criteria they use to evaluate proposed transactions, such as when a corporation buys a young competitor or a large cache of data that could help it gain market domination.

The order will also ask the Federal Communications Commission to impose additional limitations on broadband internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. Consumers have long complained that they have too few options and pay too much for internet connection, according to activists.

Mr. Biden will also lobby the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate so-called net neutrality laws, which prohibit internet providers from banning certain information, limiting its delivery, or charging customers more to have their content delivered faster. The guidelines were implemented during the Obama administration, but President Donald J. Trump reversed them.

While Mr. Biden’s directive urges more vigorous antitrust enforcement, it also highlights another fact: he has yet to nominate permanent heads to numerous government offices that oversee competition. He has yet to name someone to lead the antitrust section of the Department of Justice. And he has yet to pick a permanent chair of the Federal Communications Commission, despite Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic commissioner, serving in an interim capacity.

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