The Cyberlaw Podcast

Another Merger the FTC Should Block

By Stewart Baker
Friday, March 6, 2020, 10:06 AM

This is a bonus episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast – a freestanding interview of Noah Phillips, a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission. The topic of the interview is whether privacy and antitrust analysis should be merged, especially in the context of Silicon Valley and its social media platforms. Commissioner Phillips, who has devoted considerable attention to the privacy side of the FTC’s jurisdiction, recently delivered a speech on the topic and telegraphed his doubts in the title: “Should We Block This Merger? Some Thoughts on Converging Antitrust and Privacy.” Subject to the usual Cyberlaw Podcast injunction that he speaks only for himself and not his institution or relatives, Commissioner Phillips lays out the very real connections between personal data and industry dominance as well as the complexities that come from trying to use antitrust to solve privacy problems. Among the complexities: the key to more competition among social media giants could well be more sharing between companies of the personal data that fuels their network effects, and corporate sharing of personal data is what privacy advocates have spent a decade crusading against. It’s a wide-ranging interview, touching on, among other things, whether antitrust can be used to solve Silicon Valley’s censorship problem (he’s skeptical) and what he thinks of suggestions in Europe that perhaps the Schrems problem can be solved by declaring that post-CCPA California meets EU data privacy standards. Commissioner Phillips is bemused; I conclude that this is just Europe seeking revenge for President Trump’s Brexit support by promoting “Calexit.”

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