U.S. consumer protection agency may get budget boost as tech probe proceeds

September 25, 2019 2:16 PM

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A House of Representatives budget panel has proposed raising the budget of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by $40 million, a more than 10% rise at a time when the antitrust and consumer protection agency has undertaken a probe of Facebook (NASDAQ: FB).

The FTC, whose budget was $310 million this fiscal year, divides its antitrust enforcement work with the Justice Department.

The agency has said it was conducting an antitrust investigation of Facebook, while sources had told Reuters in June it was gearing up to investigate Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Facebook over possible misuse of market power.

The extra funds proposed by a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee would mean the FTC could add about 90 staff, allowing the agency to double the size of its technology task force, Chairman Joe Simons told the panel at a hearing.

In its big tech probes, Simons said the task force would look at past mergers and any allegations of exclusionary conduct, where a dominant firm tries to prevent a smaller rival from gaining market share.

Commissioner Rohit Chopra said the investigation could include looking at fake reviews and use of facial recognition.

Lawmakers at the hearing pressed Simons, a Republican, and Chopra, a Democrat, on disagreements on key decisions such as whether the $5 billion settlement with Facebook over its privacy practices was adequate.

"The settlement was far greater than we could have got in litigation," said Simons about the Facebook settlement.

Chopra said it was not enough to stop Facebook re-offending.

Lawmakers at the hearing pushed Simons and Chopra on what they were doing to fight robocalls, innovations in scamming like "sim swapping," when a fraudster convinces a telecom carrier to move a victim's phone number to the scammer.

They also asked about scammers that target service members and the elderly, sale of geolocation data and the skyrocketing cost of insulin.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Edmund Blair)