Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) called on the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation into Facebook on the grounds of possible violations of anti-monopoly law. Cicilline, who heads the antitrust panel on the House Judiciary Committee, is one of the central lawmakers overseeing federal anti-monopoly policy.
Cicilline makes the case for an investigation in an op-ed in The New York Times and a letter sent directly to the FTC where he cites multiple incidents involving Facebook that he believes violated federal antitrust law. Cicilline specifically notes Facebook’s plan to merge the underlying infrastructure of its messaging products like Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp as well as the company’s decision to block Vine from accessing the Facebook API. According to Cicilline, those plans are “smoking gun” evidence that the company has broken the law.
“Nothing changes,” Cicilline writes in the op-ed. “That’s why, as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, I am calling for an investigation into whether Facebook’s conduct has violated antitrust laws.”
The FTC has previously confirmed that it is investigating Facebook in the wake of a string of data privacy issues, which may have violated a preexisting consent decree. But there’s no public evidence that either the FTC or the Justice Department is investigating Facebook on antitrust grounds.
“The FTC is facing a massive credibility crisis,” Cicilline said. “How the commission chooses to respond to Facebook’s repeated abuses will determine whether it is willing or able to promote competition and protect consumers.”
“The F.T.C. is facing a massive credibility crisis”
Last month, the FTC announced a new task force that would investigate anti-competitive behavior in the tech industry, but no official investigation into Facebook or other tech giants has been announced.
Antitrust scholar Lina Khan, who was recently brought on as a committee staffer, praised Cicilline’s calls for action, saying, “recidivists like Facebook should face remedies that change the operation & incentives of the firm.” After repeated offenses, “cost-of-business fines are not enough.”
In recent weeks, a number of major political leaders have proposed more aggressive antitrust policies. Most notable is Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) new proposal to break up companies like Facebook and others like Google and Amazon. Soon after Warren’s announcement went up, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other 2020 presidential candidates, voiced support for some form of antitrust enforcement.
“American antitrust agencies have not pursued a significant monopoly case in more than two decades, even as corporate concentration and monopoly power have reached historic levels,” Cicilline said. “It’s clear that serious enforcement is long overdue.”