Cicilline on Wednesday suggested any big tech deals that can’t be immediately shown to promote competition could be put on hold. “In this context where there is significant harm being imposed upon consumers, it seems like something worth considering,” he said.
Delrahim, whose department announced a broad investigation into the online marketplace that has in part targeted Google, expressed openness to the idea, though he suggested that “a lot that can be done short of a merger moratorium.”
“I don’t have a clear administration position on that, but we’d be delighted to explore that with you,” he told Cicilline.
Simons, meanwhile, said the FTC is already reviewing consummated tech mergers as part of its own enforcement efforts, but did not comment on the prospects of a moratorium.
At Wednesday’s hearing, House lawmakers grilled Delrahim and Simons over concerns that they have done little to challenge mergers by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.
“Despite mounting evidence of illegal monopolization activities by the dominant platforms, and numerous cases brought by the international enforcers, U.S. enforcers appear to be paralyzed,” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the full House Judiciary Committee, said in his opening remarks.
Others criticized the FTC in particular for what they saw as lax protection of consumers’ personal data online, hammering the agency for not imposing greater restrictions on tech giant Facebook as part of its $5 billion settlement with the FTC.
“Obviously as I’m sure you’re aware there are a number of us in both chambers of the Congress who are deeply disappointed in our view with the terms of the settlement,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.).
But Simons pushed back on criticisms of the agency’s track record on privacy and antitrust, challenging Congress to update aging statutes on those issues.
“I think if you want us to do more on the privacy front, than we need help from you,” Simons said. “We’ve done as much as we can do with the tools we have.”
Cicilline told reporters after the hearing he wasn’t fully convinced by that claim.
“I’m not satisfied that the agencies are doing everything available to them, but I take Chairman Simons’ point,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re conducting this investigation.”