On February 26, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Competition announced a new Technology Task Force, which will monitor anticompetitive conduct in U.S. technology markets “to ensure consumers benefit from free and fair competition.” With the consumer protection agency already a chief arbiter of privacy enforcement in the tech sector, the new task force increases the likelihood that the continued convergence between competition and consumer protection policy, which began in earnest at the dawn of the current century, may be gaining momentum.
German approach. The announcement comes just a few weeks after Germany’s antitrust regulator used its competition authority to enforce principles of data privacy and processing. On February 7, 2019, the Bundeskartellamt issued a decision against Facebook, ruling that the practice of combining user personal data from different sources by a dominant market participant violated EU data protection law. This was a noteworthy decision from a competition authority being influenced by and seeking to enforce the General Data Protection Regulation, which would otherwise be enforced by data protection authorities. The decision is not yet final, but if upheld it could have the notable impact of limiting the data footprint used to inform advertising, and may influence regulators’ willingness to use competition law to buttress limitations placed on the flexibility of data collectors and processors. Please see our previous client alert on the Facebook ruling. If this approach informs the FTC’s position on competition and privacy enforcement, it could extend a trend of regulators outside the data protection sphere using broader authority as a bridge to enforce privacy issues against companies they view to have a dominant market position.