Earlier today, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced that it will host a series of public hearings on whether “broad-based changes in the economy, evolving business practices, new technologies, or international developments might require adjustments to competition and consumer protection enforcement law, enforcement priorities, and policy.”

FTC Chairman Joe Simons noted that “important and significant questions recently have been raised about whether we should rethink our approach to some of these issues,” and expressed that “[w]e are excited about this new hearings project, and anticipate and look forward to substantial participation from our stakeholders.”

The FTC’s press release noted that the “multi-day, multi-part hearings” will be similar to the FTC’s “Global Competition and Innovation Hearings,” which took place in 1995 at the direction of then-Chairman Robert Pitofsky.  Those hearings were held to address “whether there have been broad-based changes in the contemporary competitive environment that require any adjustments in antitrust and consumer protection enforcement in order to keep pace with those changes.”  The 1995 hearings resulted in a two-volume report, released in May 1996, articulating the FTC’s analysis and recommendations on competition and consumer protection policy.

Chairman Simons explained that the 1995 hearings “re-invigorated the agency’s research and policy function,” and noted that “[s]ince then, the Commission has continued to use hearings, workshops, and conferences in support of its dual mission to promote competition and to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices.”  He also expressed his belief that “[t]his project reflects the spirit, style, and, most importantly, broad scope” of the 1995 hearings.

The hearings will take place this fall and winter, beginning in September 2018 and running through January 2019.  The FTC anticipates hosting 15-20 public sessions, all of which will be open to the public as well as live-streamed.

The FTC is seeking public comments in advance of the hearings on the following topics:

  • “The state of antitrust and consumer protection law and enforcement, and their development, since the Pitofsky hearings;
  • Competition and consumer protection issues in communication, information, and media technology networks;
  • The identification and measurement of market power and entry barriers, and the evaluation of collusive, exclusionary, or predatory conduct or conduct that violates the consumer protection statutes enforced by the FTC, in markets featuring ‘platform’ businesses;
  • The intersection between privacy, big data, and competition;
  • The Commission’s remedial authority to deter unfair and deceptive conduct in privacy and data security matters;
  • Evaluating the competitive effects of corporate acquisitions and mergers;
  • Evidence and analysis of monopsony power, including but not limited to, in labor markets;
  • The role of intellectual property and competition policy in promoting innovation;
  • The consumer welfare implications associated with the use of algorithmic decision tools, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics;
  • The interpretation and harmonization of state and federal statutes and regulations that prohibit unfair and deceptive acts and practices; and
  • The agency’s investigation, enforcement, and remedial processes.”

The FTC will be accepting public comments on the above topics through August 20, 2018, and will also invite comments on the topic of each hearing session once announced, as well as upon completion of the series of hearings.  Chairman Simons noted that the FTC is “especially interested in reviewing new empirical analyses with respect to any of the topics identified for comment.”