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FTC Dem: Regulators are 'drinking the Kool-Aid' of monopolists

FTC Dem: Regulators are 'drinking the Kool-Aid' of monopolists
© Greg Nash

Rohit Chopra, a Democrat on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), on Thursday said he is concerned that U.S. regulators and lawmakers are "drinking the Kool-Aid of monopolists."

Chopra, an ally to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Warren, Brown voice support for controversial Biden budget office pick Biden's economic team gets mixed reviews from Senate Republicans MORE (D-Mass.), a 2020 candidate who often speaks out against concentrated corporate power, made the comments at a conference about how the left and the right can come together over their concerns about monopolies in the U.S. 

He accused regulators of failing to pull the different "levers" of government at their disposal to take on the country's largest corporations, including financial institutions and top tech firms like Facebook.

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"Some of it is not about laws and regulations," he said. "Some of it is about, 'Are we drinking the Kool-Aid of monopolists?' " 

"You have to start being suspicious when government is really solving for the headline rather than the real problem," Chopra continued, discussing the FTC's recent $5 billion settlement with Facebook over privacy violations.

For months, Chopra has railed against the party-line settlement by the FTC, claiming that his Republican colleagues abdicated their responsibility to use the full force of their regulatory authority against Facebook, the largest social network in the world.

"I give credit to my colleagues who supported the $5 billion Facebook settlement because they sure got a lot of headlines," Chopra said. "But at the end of the day, it wasn’t going to solve the core issues." 

At a House hearing the day before, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons (R) told lawmakers that the FTC could use more resources and more authority to fully take on Big Tech.

Fielding criticism from Democrats over the FTC's track record on dealing with top tech companies, including Google's YouTube and Facebook, Simons told the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, “I think if you want us to do more on the privacy front, then we need help from you." 

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“We’ve done as much as we can do with the tools we have," he added.

But Chopra on Thursday rejected that rhetoric, saying the FTC actually has "a great deal of authority" but is not using it under current Republican leadership. 

The FTC is one of the top antitrust enforcement bodies in the country alongside the Department of Justice. Both the FTC and the Justice Department are currently probing the country's largest and most powerful tech companies over antitrust concerns.  

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the House and Senate are working up legislation that would beef up the FTC's ability to take on tech companies over issues including competition and privacy.