Top antitrust Dem calls on FTC to probe Facebook's market dominance

Top antitrust Dem calls on FTC to probe Facebook's market dominance
© Greg Nash

Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Top antitrust Dem presses DOJ, FTC on Google's Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks MORE (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, on Tuesday called for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to probe whether Facebook has violated U.S. antitrust laws. 

"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," Cicilline wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

He also laid out his case against Facebook in a more technical letter to the FTC

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Cicilline, one of the most vocal tech critics in Congress, wrote that the FTC is facing a "massive credibility crisis," encouraging the body to take a tougher stance against the country's largest tech companies. 

"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," Cicilline wrote.

A spokesperson for the FTC confirmed it has received Cicilline's letter but declined to comment further.

The letter comes as the FTC reportedly considers levying a record multimillion-dollar fine against Facebook for its data privacy practices.

The tech giant is also facing investigations from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Justice Department's securities fraud division and federal prosecutors in New York.

Cicilline in the Times op-ed laid out the antitrust case against Facebook, alleging the company has engaged in a "broader pattern of misconduct" since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which marked a souring of public opinion on the social media behemoth.

Since 2016, when reports emerged that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly acquired the Facebook data of 87 million users to assist then-candidate Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Facebook has faced an intensifying barrage of scandals over its data privacy and pursuit of market dominance.

Cicilline cited reports that Facebook has paid teenagers to review their online activity, has collected sensitive information without users' informed consent and has used its dominance to cut off potential competitors. 

Earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Civil rights groups demand changes to Facebook's political speech policy Hillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day MORE announced the company's plans to integrate its messaging services on Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook. 

"These reports suggest a disturbing pattern of anticompetitive conduct," Cicilline wrote. "It has killed innovation and eliminated competitive threats. And the price for advertising on the platform has continued to rise." 

Facebook has faced antitrust enforcement in other countries such as Germany, where regulators ordered Facebook to heavily restrict its data-gathering practices.

Germany's antitrust watchdog ruled that Facebook must obtain voluntary consent before they collect data from users of Facebook-owned services WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as third-party websites.

The FTC last month announced the launch of a task force aimed at monitoring competition among the country's tech companies, eliciting optimistic responses from FTC critics and privacy advocates. 

"America’s laws are not suggestions," Cicilline wrote. "When a company has repeatedly shown contempt for its legal commitments, the remedy must change how the company operates."

"It’s clear that serious enforcement is long overdue," he wrote.

Updated at 5:35 p.m.