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Pete Buttigieg wants the FTC to fight big tech monopolies

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‘Antitrust law as we know it has begun to hit its limits’

Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Campaigns In New Hampshire Photo by Scott Eisen / Getty Images

During his CNN town hall event last night in New Hampshire, 2020 Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg said that, if elected president, he would work to empower the Federal Trade Commission so that it could better tackle tech monopolies.

Buttigieg has previously critiqued what he perceives to be concentrations of wealth across industries, including tech. On Monday night, he discussed at length the extent to which he believes current antitrust standards fail when challenged by free services like Facebook and Google.

“Antitrust law as we know it has begun to hit its limits with regulating tech companies,” Buttigieg said. “It’s not designed to handle some of these tech companies where there’s actually no price at all. The product is made free, or at least it’s free on its face. We’ve learned in part because of the way our data are used by these companies that nothing is actually free.”

Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in 2011 winning a large majority of the vote. In recent months, he has become a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. He officially announced his 2020 campaign two weeks ago, following his first CNN town hall appearance in March. Buttigieg, who is gay, a Navy veteran, and a Rhodes scholar, has largely avoided major policy proposals during the early stages of the campaign.

Earlier this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced a sweeping plan to break up tech giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Warren proposed legislation that would ban platform-holders to sell their own products on their respective platforms, and she also suggested that, if elected president, she would nominate officials to the Justice Department who would work to either block new mergers or even unwind previously consummated ones.

Buttigieg didn’t touch on Justice Department nominations or new legislation like Warren, but he pointed to the FTC, the leading US consumer protection agency. The FTC has been a target for lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have suggested providing the agency with more resources to better combat Big Tech.

Buttigieg appeared to agree with that sentiment, saying, “We’re going to need to empower the FTC to be able to intervene, including blocking or reversing mergers in cases where there’s anti-competitive behavior among tech companies even if it can’t directly be applied to pricing because you’re not seeing it in the form of changes to prices since the product’s free.”

Following Warren’s Big Tech and antitrust proposal, other 2020 Democratic contenders have been asked to respond, but none have been as disruptive as Warren. Candidates like Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have critiqued the power of Big Tech, especially Amazon, but none have called for specific companies to be broken up.

Buttigieg also brought up his concerns with automation, something that Andrew Yang, a fringe candidate who is slowly working his way up in national polls, has centered his campaign on.

In a response to a question about trade and manufacturing, Buttigieg said, “We have to be honest about the fact that every job in manufacturing that has been lost as a consequence of trade, there’s several more that have been lost as a result of technology and automation and that’s not going to change.”

Updated 4/23/19 11:00 a.m. EST: At the CNN Town Hall event Monday night, Buttigieg said he would be launching a new policy page on his website. The page is already live and the article has been updated to clarify that.