At the hearing, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joseph Simons told Klobuchar that the FTC “dearly need(s) the resources”
Klobuchar has introduced legislation to protect consumers’ personal data and strengthen enforcement of antitrust laws
WASHINGTON — Today, at a Senate Commerce Committee Hearing titled, “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the urgent need to protect consumers’ privacy and strengthen enforcement of antitrust laws. At the hearing, Klobuchar pressed Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joseph Simons on the need to look back at past mergers that may have caused harm to competition and questioned him on the need for increased enforcement resources.
“In the House last week with the CEOs of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple, and based on what you heard at the hearing, do you believe that the FTC should look back at consummated mergers, not just to learn from them, but to potentially to take more enforcement action given what we’ve seen with Instagram and WhatsApp with Facebook and some of these others and what the market is looking like right now,” Klobuchar asked FTC Chairman Simons at the hearing.
Chairman Simons responded: “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on any particular investigation, but I said before that yes, we have the ability to look back at consummated mergers and to undo them. We’ve done that many times in the past, we have a litigation going on now where we’re doing that, so that is something that is definitely on the table for us. In addition, what we’ve done is we’ve issued 6(b) orders to all the major tech platform companies to get information from them about acquisitions that were not that were not reportable under the HSR Act, so we’re looking at those too.”
“You’re dealing with trillion dollar companies and are expected to be the counterweight to those companies and expected by the public and all of us, Democrats and Republicans to be looking at these things. So [Senator] Grassley and I have a bill to add more resources with some filing fee changes for the mega mergers and the like. I think we should be doing more going into next year in a big way, but could you just briefly say whether more resources would be helpful. The public needs to understand and my colleagues need to understand this shift over time and how it is literally going to be impossible for us to take on legions of lawyers at trillion dollar companies who do all this stuff that everyone is talking about ... if we don’t have the resources,” Klobuchar continued.
Chairman Simons responded: “We dearly need the resources. You make a good point that in the 80’s we were about twice the size that we are now. Some of that has to do with computerization and more efficiency among staff, but still I think we are behind and we do need more resources. We’re busting at the seams. We’re having trouble staffing the existing mergers as it is and like I mentioned earlier we are on pace to have more merger enforcement action than anytime since the fiscal year 2000.”
As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Klobuchar has been a leader in the fight to protect consumers’ personal data and online privacy.
In June, Klobuchar joined Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to introduce the Exposure Notification Privacy Act to protect the privacy of consumers’ personal health data collected via contact tracing applications. The legislation makes participation in commercial online exposure notification systems voluntary and gives consumers strong controls over their personal data, limits the types of data that can be collected and how it can be used, and contains strong enforcement provisions.
In November 2019, Klobuchar joined Senators Cantwell and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Ed Markey (D-MA) in introducing comprehensive federal privacy legislation to establish privacy rights, outlaw harmful and deceptive practices, and improve data security safeguards for consumers. 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. The legislation also codifies the rights of individuals to pursue claims against entities that violate their data privacy rights.
That month, Klobuchar and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), urging the agency to examine a collaboration between Google and Ascension health system that enables Google to collect the personal health information of roughly 50 million Americans—including personally identifiable information, lab results, hospital records, and physician diagnoses—without their knowledge or consent.
In June 2019, Klobuchar and Murkowski introduced the Protecting Personal Health Data Act, bipartisan legislation to protect consumers’ private health data not covered under existing privacy law. The Protecting Personal Health Data Act addresses these health privacy concerns by requiring the Secretary of HHS to promulgate regulations for new health technologies such as health apps, wearable devices like Fitbits, and direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits that are not regulated by existing laws.
In May 2019, Klobuchar along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) reintroduced the Honest Ads Act to help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements. The Honest Ads Act would prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite and by improving disclosure requirements.
In January 2019, Klobuchar and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced the Social Media Privacy and Consumer Rights Act, bipartisan legislation that would protect the privacy of consumers’ online data by improving transparency, strengthening consumers’ recourse options when a breach of data occurs, and ensuring companies are compliant with privacy policies that protect consumers.
In her role as Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Klobuchar has championed efforts to protect consumers, promote competition, and fight consolidation in major industrial sectors, including the telecommunications, technology, agriculture, and pharmaceutical sectors.
In July, Klobuchar led a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to urge the Antitrust Division to conduct a comprehensive review of Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit.
Earlier in July, Klobuchar issued a statement after the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released final Vertical Merger Guidelines that describe the principal practices and enforcement policies of the DOJ and the FTC with respect to vertical mergers that raise serious competitive concerns and risk harming consumers.
In May, Klobuchar and 14 colleagues sent a letter to Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Makan Delrahim and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joseph Simons, urging the Department of Justice and the FTC to be vigilant in enforcing the antitrust laws and protecting consumers during and after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In May, Klobuchar along with Leahy, Blumenthal, and Booker sent a letter to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joseph Simons, urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FTC to monitor the negotiations relating to Uber’s potential acquisition of Grubhub and to initiate an investigation if the parties had reached an agreement to merge, which would have eliminated one of the three leading U.S. food delivery apps. Following initial reports that Uber was withdrawing from merger negotiations with Grubhub, Klobuchar issued a statement calling the outcome good for consumers and restaurants.
In March 2020, Klobuchar introduced the The Anticompetitive Exclusionary Conduct Prevention Act which prohibits anti competitive exclusionary conduct that risks harm to the competitive process. It also makes reforms to improve antitrust enforcement across the board. The bill was cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).
In November 2019, Klobuchar released a statement following reports from the Wall Street Journal that Google and Ascension are collaborating to share the personal health information of roughly 50 million Americans—including personally identifiable information, lab results, hospital records, and physician diagnoses—on Google’s cloud system.
Klobuchar leads the Consolidation Prevention and Competition Promotion Act to restore the original purpose of the Clayton Antitrust Act to promote competition and protect American consumers. The bill would strengthen the current legal standard to help stop harmful consolidation that may materially lessen competition.
Klobuchar has also been an outspoken voice in opposing anticompetitive mergers and has introduced legislation to help prevent them. In June 2019, Klobuchar and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced new bipartisan legislation to ensure that antitrust authorities have the resources they need to protect consumers. The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act would update merger filing fees for the first time since 2001, lower the burden on small and medium-sized businesses, ensure larger deals bring in more income, and raise enough revenue so that taxpayer dollars aren’t required to fund necessary increases to agency enforcement budgets.