Tag: FTC

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Anyone else getting Social Security scammer robocalls from the 830 area code? They rotate the rest of the numbers, all mimicked and not real, but actually leave a message. It is a slightly cleverer variation on the earlier, more threatening scams, and close to one reported this past tax season. Newsweek reported on two earlier […]

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Washington’s War on Big Tech: Must There Be a Google?

 

If Washington’s War on Google has begun, when will it end? The Justice Department is apparently gearing up an investigation of the internet giant. And for what reason exactly? That’s unclear. But one 2012 Federal Trade Commission analysis might give us a hint. It described Google as “engaging in tactics that resulted in harm to many vertical competitors, and likely helped to entrench Google’s monopoly power over search and search advertising.”

Overseas, the European Commission has thrice fined Google for business practices deemed uncompetitive. The most recent came last March when regulators hit the company with a nearly $2 billion fine for past “abusive practices.” The EC said Google “abused its market dominance by imposing a number of restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites which prevented Google’s rivals from placing their search adverts on these websites.”

But hefty fines and, say, better ad placement for Yelp and TripAdvisor, may hardly be punitive or radical enough given the dramatic complaints of some activists and policymakers. Alphabet-Google, tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, “has too much power, and they’re using that power to hurt small businesses, stifle innovation, and tilt the playing field against everyone else.” (At minimum, she would “unwind” past Google acquisitions of DoubleClick, Nest, and Waze. Others would split off YouTube. On the right, nationalist populist leader Steve Bannon sees nationalization, at least partial, as a possible answer. Other activists would go further.)

The FTC Unfriends Facebook

 

While Facebook thrives in the marketplace, the company is under siege by angry critics both inside and outside of government over privacy issues. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claims that Facebook violated its 2011 privacy consent decree and may impose a fine on the company of up to $5 billion. The FTC alleges that Facebook did not do enough to protect user data from being improperly exploited by Cambridge Analytica, which used that data to supply strategy advice to the Trump campaign.

In one sense, the fine is the least of Facebook’s worries; other initiatives are in development to alter the way the company does business. With her usual lack of caution, Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for the breakup of Facebook, Amazon, and Google on the ground that their allegedly monopolistic practices tend to squash smaller upstarts, leading to what she laments as a rapid decline in competition and innovation across an industry that has been defined by fierce competition and high levels of innovation. Warren doubled down on her position by recently unveiling a new bill imposing criminal liability—including jail time—on corporate executives for simple negligence in carrying out their manifold duties.

Piling on, Rhode Island’s David Cicilline, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, has called for aggressive FTC investigation and antitrust remedies against Facebook. On the Senate side, Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote the FTC urging the direct imposition of fines against Mark Zuckerberg personally. There are other efforts like these afoot in many states and in the European Union.

FTC to FDA: Do Your Job So We Can Do Ours

 

shutterstock_125410652Regulation is a tricky matter, filled with tension. Too little and you end up with fraud and harm; too much and you stifle innovation. Too little input from industry and you get decisions ignorant of conditions on the ground; too much and you have regulatory capture. When it comes to homeopathy, the Food and Drug Administration seems to have managed to make all of these errors at once — including ones that should be mutually exclusive.

A few months back, the FDA sought public comment on its regulatory regime for homeopathy. Both homeopaths and science-based activists flooded them with material. The most surprising comment, however, came from another organ of the government: a pointed and bitter memorandum from the Federal Trade Commission, essentially telling its fellow regulators to stop making the FTC’s job impossible by abdicating the FDA’s duty to evaluate homeopathic products’ efficacy and safety in the same way they do normal drugs.

As described by the blog Science-Based Medicine, who — rightly, I think — consider homeopathy a fraud: