Biden signs order pushing for scrutiny of tech giants, right to repair and more

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Joe Biden

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President Joe Biden signed an executive order Friday to spur more competition as the economy begins ramping up following the COVID-19 pandemic. The action will affect a wide range of industries — in particular, the tech industry

Biden’s “Promoting Competition in the American Economy” executive order consists of 72 directives for federal agencies. Regarding the tech industry, the president ordered the Federal Trade Commission to establish rules on surveillance and on the accumulation of data, to bar unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces and to prevent restrictions on allowing independent repair shops and DIY repairs on people’s own equipment, also known as right-to-repair

It also seeks to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules and calls for greater scrutiny of mergers, singling out “dominant internet platforms.”  

“No more tolerance for abusive actions by monopolies,” Biden said in Friday’s press conference. “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation.” 

Acquisitions and acquiring your data

Biden’s wide-ranging executive order comes as tech companies have been under greater scrutiny from politicians and government agencies for buying rivals instead of competing with them. Facebook’s acquisitions of photo app Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp, for instance, have been the focus of antitrust complaints against the company. Last week, a federal judge dismissed lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and a group of state attorneys general that accused the social media giant of engaging in anticompetitive practices. The FTC can file an amended complaint. 

Biden’s executive order also goes after how tech companies gather a trove of personal data as part of their business. That’s been an issue for Facebook and Google, among others.

The order also calls for regulation of companies that operate “dominant online retail marketplaces” that sell their own products as well as those of other businesses, encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to apply laws that bar unfair competition on such platforms. This kind of enforcement would likely focus on Amazon, where about 44% of e-commerce in the US took place in 2020. The FTC’s new chair, Lina Khan, mapped out a legal theory for regulating Amazon while a student at Yale Law School. Amazon has asked the FTC to require Khan to be recused from investigations into the company, arguing she wouldn’t bring objectivity to the process.

Federal lawmakers have also singled out web retailers that run a marketplace where they sell goods alongside other businesses. Of a slate of five proposed antitrust laws, one seeks to make it illegal for a company to compete on its own platform.

Facebook and Amazon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Restoring net neutrality

Biden’s order calls on the Federal Communications Commission to enact a number of measures to improve competition and transparency among broadband providers, including restoring net neutrality rules that were undone under the Trump administration. The 2015 rules, adopted under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, prevented broadband providers from blocking or slowing access to the internet or charging for faster access. 

The American Civil Liberties Union praised Biden’s order but also urged the president to appoint a fifth FCC commissioner to help spur action. The FCC is currently deadlocked with two Democrats and two Republicans. 

“We applaud President Biden for urging the FCC to take actions that will restore net neutrality and help to lower broadband costs and ensure necessary transparency,” said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, on Friday.But for the agency to achieve those goals, we need a full slate of FCC Commissioners. Biden must appoint a fifth FCC Commissioner immediately.”

CNET’s Queenie Wong and Laura Hautala contributed to this report.



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