WASHINGTON – President Biden on Friday will encourage federal agencies to stem the way big tech companies grow through mergers and gain a competitive advantage by leveraging massive amounts of consumer data, as part of a larger executive order intended to disperse corporate consolidation throughout the economy.
The executive order includes a number of measures that specifically target big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, people with knowledge of its content said.
The order would tell federal agencies that approved the merger that they should take a closer look at the tech industry’s practices. The latter would encourage the Federal Trade Commission to write rules restricting how tech giants use consumer data, a response to criticism that companies like Amazon could Leverage what they know about users to gain an edge in competing businesses and services.
The order is Mr. Biden’s latest admission of concerns that tech giants have acquired superior market power, becoming gatekeepers to commerce, media and culture. A growing group of lawmakers, academics and rival companies say government regulators have failed to check the growth of companies in more than a decade. To address companies’ market power, they say, policymakers need to vigorously enforce antitrust laws and possibly rewrite them to better capture Silicon Valley’s business models. .
Mr. Biden has brought some of the most vocal critics of Big Tech to the helm. At the White House, he appointed Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor and outspoken proponent of breaking up companies like Facebook, as a special counsel on competition. He appointed Lina Khan to chair the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Khan has also called for the breakup of big tech companies and worked on a House antitrust investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
Critics of Big Tech also often argue that the economy as a whole has become more focused to the detriment of consumers – including in industries like agriculture, medicine and fashion. And some White House officials hope the order will go back to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who highlighted the rise of big business and installed government officials opposed to centralization, said the people.
But his control was limited in its scope. The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are independent agencies that enforce applicable antitrust and media laws. Those laws have barely changed since before the mass adoption of the Internet.
House lawmakers have introduced a number of proposals to increase agency engagement, but those bills are expected to face stiff resistance. White House officials said the new directives, expected to be published in full on Friday, do not necessarily require congressional action to expand the agencies’ capabilities, people familiar with their content said. In many cases, regulators have held back from enforcing existing laws and creating new ones, they said.
One of the goals of the executive order is mergers in which large tech companies acquire small companies that can become fierce competitors, eliminating the competition before it succeeds. The directives encourage dealers to review the guidelines they use to evaluate proposed deals, including when a company is purchasing a younger competitor or a cache of data can help the company achieve a dominant position.
The order would also require the FCC to impose new restrictions on the operations of broadband internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. Activists have long said consumers have too few choices and pay too much for internet service.
Biden would also encourage the FCC to rebuild its so-called net neutrality rule that would prohibit internet providers from blocking certain content, slowing delivery, or allowing customers to pay more for content. Their content is delivered faster. The agency adopted the rules under Obama and then backtracked under President Donald J. Trump.
While Mr. Biden’s order encourages stronger enforcement of antitrust laws, it also highlights another fact: He has yet to appoint permanent leaders to some of the government positions that police compete.
He has yet to nominate anyone to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division. And he has yet to choose the permanent chair of the FCC, although Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, has taken up the role on an interim basis.