Klobuchar also highlighted need for antitrust reform, saying: “There’s no incentive to do a lot on privacy when there’s only one competitor”

WASHINGTON – At today’s Commerce Committee hearing on protecting consumer privacy, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the urgent need for antitrust reform and to provide the Federal Trade Commission with additional resources. 

“There’s no incentive to do a lot on privacy when there’s only one competitor,” said Klobuchar.

Klobuchar also emphasized how companies’ data collection practices raise both privacy and competition concerns, noting “literally so much information feeds into the profiteering of the tech companies that’s off of consumers’ backs.”

In December 2019, Klobuchar joined Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and fellow Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Ed Markey (D-MA) in unveiling comprehensive federal online privacy legislation to establish digital rules of the road that companies must follow. The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA) gives Americans control over their personal data; prohibits companies from using consumers’ data to harm or deceive them; establishes strict standards for the collection, use, sharing, and protection of consumer data; protects civil rights; and penalizes companies that fail to meet data protection standards.

As Chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, last week Klobuchar chaired a hearing on the big data economy, highlighting how the use of big data affects and can threaten competition.

The full transcript of questioning as given below and video available for TV download HERE and online viewing HERE.

Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you, Madam Chair, thank you. I am going to former Senator Bayh’s wife’s funeral, and I apologize for this being on the phone here. I’m on the bus, but I really wanted to be part of this important hearing, and I thank you for your leadership, Senator Cantwell, and so many others. 

Mr. Soltani, in your testimony and opening, you highlight how the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection has only about 40 attorneys as compared to other countries’ data protection agencies, such as Germany, with one quarter of the U.S. population with nearly 745 staff. You also note how a new FTC Privacy Bureau would provide the agency with the resources it needs. Can you elaborate on how this bureau will help build upon the agency’s work to protect consumer privacy, and I would also add to that, Senator Grassley and I, of course, have a bill that would help both the FTC and DOJ Antitrust when it comes to antitrust enforcement, that’s half the Senate, and there’s also efforts to beef up the resources on that side of the work, which I think does lead into privacy, because, you know, there’s no incentive to do a lot on privacy when there’s only one competitor as in a dominant platform. So could you address both things, Mr. Soltani? Thank you.

Mr. Soltani: Absolutely. I think, as I said before, regulation and even Section 5, without adequate enforcement and oversight, is just dead letter. And effectively, the enhanced, kind of, the creation of this new agency, plus the staffing that expert resources -- sorry, the creation of this new bureau, with the staffing of key resources will help the agency not only kind of enforce and oversee the myriad of harms we’re concerned about, but in fact go after a number of companies rather than just one or two at a time, and as you know, often these matters take years to complete. So give the ability for the agency to actually oversee more of what you all are concerned about. To your second point, absolutely, privacy and antitrust are deeply related, I don't think you can solve one without solving the other, and I do think that efforts to try to deal with some of the market failure resulting in some of the privacy abuses is critical.

Sen: Klobuchar: Thank you very much. Professor Vladeck, I recently held a hearing in Antitrust about consumer data, and how literally so much information feeds into the profiteering of the tech companies that’s off of consumers’ backs. I think Facebook makes their own reports, $50 a quarter, from each user in America. And so, could you talk about how large data sets held by a small handful of companies can raise competitive concerns, such as barriers to entry? 

Prof. Vladeck: Thank you, thank you Senator. I do think these enormous reservoirs of personal data, which are constantly being updated, frictionlessly, with no cost to the companies, is an enormous asset that is a barrier to entry and is a barrier to rivals trying to replicate these kinds of data banks. And so I think that, you know, I agree with you, that these aggregations of enormous amounts of sensitive, personal data are an enormous asset, of course the accounting industry hasn’t really caught up to this, but we have at the FTC, and you know, the frictionless acquisition of personal data on an ongoing basis is an enormous advantage in this marketplace and will freeze out rivals.

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