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FTC top officials have conflicts of interest with tech and other corporations

Corporate Handshake With Six Hands Piled on Top of Each OtherMost top officials at the Federal Trade Commission become lawyers and lobbyists for major technology companies after they leave the agency or bring Silicon Valley conflicts with them when they arrive, a Public Citizen report found.

The report shows that most of these officials – 63 percent or 26 out of 41 – have revolving-door conflicts of interest involving work on behalf of the technology sector. These conflicts help explain the FTC’s chronic reluctance to strictly enforce consumer protection and antitrust laws against Big Tech, Public Citizen, a public interest organization, said.

The FTC is charged with consumer protection and antitrust enforcement. In recent decades, the agency has taken a light approach to enforcement, especially against Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Google, and Uber.

“The FTC is famously timid in cracking down on corporate wrongdoing, and it has given tech companies, in particular, the kid-glove treatment,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “It’s awfully hard for top FTC officials to be tough on tech company wrongdoing if they previously worked for tech companies or are likely to seek employment with tech companies once they leave the agency.”

Technology sector-related FTC conflicts of interest are particularly concerning because hundreds of millions of consumers are suffering from an onslaught of negligent data-keeping practices by Big Tech, said Weissman. Without proper oversight from the FTC, consumers are essentially defenseless when companies ignore or violate their agreements with the government to safeguard data.

Public Citizen’s analysis also found that:

  • 75 percent of top FTC officials, 31 out of 41, have corporate revolving door conflicts, which includes all the other industries the FTC regulates in addition to tech.
  • Conflicts are bipartisan. Six of the 10 Democratic FTC commissioners who served during the past two decades have corporate revolving door conflicts, as do 10 of the 14 Republican commissioners.
  • All nine officials who have served as a director of the Bureau of Competition since the late 1990s have revolving-door conflicts with the technology sector.
  • Six of the seven officials who served since the late 1990s at the Bureau of Consumer Protection have corporate revolving door conflicts, four of which had technology sector clients.

“These endemic conflicts help explain the FTC’s chronic reluctance to strictly enforce regulations,” said Rick Claypool, research director for Public Citizen’s president’s office. “For Big Tech corporations that want to ignore consumer protections and anti-monopoly laws, the FTC’s revolving door conflicts are a feature, not a bug.”

Public Citizen supports the creation of a new data protection agency with a mission to enforce privacy protections and secure digital rights. In light of the FTC’s problems, the federal government must ensure that the public is protected from technology sector companies that violate privacy protections and abuse access to consumer data, Weissman said.

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