FTC: No plans for 'big enforcement push' against Uber, on-demand economy firms

FTC: No plans for 'big enforcement push' against Uber, on-demand economy firms
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A top official with the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday morning that the agency was not planning a “big enforcement push” against sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb.

The comments from FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen kicked off a workshop the regulator is holding on the sharing, or on-demand, economy.

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In her remarks, she reassured the growing industry that the regulator’s interest was not indicative of a plan to investigate or punish companies for violating the law.

“While it is true that some of those efforts later led to some investigations and even a few enforcement actions, I want to assure you that we did not convene today’s workshop as a prelude to some planned, big enforcement push in this space,” she said.

“I am going to repeat myself here because I really cannot stress this enough: interest in new developments in the economy by the FTC does not automatically portend a flurry of future enforcement actions,” she added moments later.

At times, she struck notes that were sympathetic to the growing industry — including when saying that the on-demand economy, which has pitted long-dominant industries against new companies, could suffer from regulation meant to favor incumbent players.

“The sharing economy, pitting a number of long-established business models against aggressive new entrants, appears a particularly fertile ground for such mischief,” she said. “But let me be clear where I stand: the evolution of markets should be driven by consumer demand, rather than artificial, regulatory preferences for one business model over another.”

Ohlhausen noted that the FTC often provides opinions to state legislators on competition issues, something she suggested could be useful for sharing economy companies that deal with complicated and patchwork regulations at the state and local level.

“So for all of the various industry participants in the audience, I want you to understand that your relationship with the FTC need not be an adversarial one,” she said. “In fact, you may find us to be a valuable ally in situations where your private interests and our broader, public mission intersect.”

The workshop is part of a broader push in Washington to examine the regulatory issues that have accompanied the rise of the on-demand economy. Featuring representatives from state regulators, academics and policy executives from both startups and entrenched, dominant companies, it is meant to explore the consumer protection and competition questions posed by the on-demand economy.

Last week, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand On The Money: Fed chief warns of 'unthinkable' harm if debt ceiling breached | Powell basks in bipartisan praise amid Trump attacks | Federal deficit jumps to 7 billion Fed chief basks in bipartisan praise as lawmakers dismiss Trump attacks MORE (D-Va.) proposed policies he said could help build a safety net for workers who are enmeshed in the on-demand economy. Companies like Uber and Lyft treat their workers as independent contractors, rather than full employees who get benefits like unemployment and protections like the minimum wage.

The increased attention in Washington marks a change from how the companies have been regulated in the past. Most of the companies have fought almost all of their regulatory battles at the state and local level, where businesses like hotels and taxi services are governed.