The Federal Trade Commission is opening a dedicated technology office that will place Silicon Valley under more scrutiny and help it stay on top of emerging tech and trends in a fast-moving market. Commissioners voted 4-0 on Thursday to create the office.
Under the direction of chair Lina Khan, the FTC has trained its focus on tech companies. Last year, Epic Games agreed to a record $520 million settlement following FTC allegations that it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The agency has also attempted to block Microsoft's proposed takeover of Activision Blizzard and sued to stop NVIDIA from buying ARM (NVIDIA backed out of the deal).
“For more than a century, the FTC has worked to keep pace with new markets and ever-changing technologies by building internal expertise," Khan said in a statement. "Our office of technology is a natural next step in ensuring we have the in-house skills needed to fully grasp evolving technologies and market trends as we continue to tackle unlawful business practices and protect Americans.”
The Office of Technology will support FTC’s investigations by the antitrust and consumer protection divisions into business practices and the tech behind them. It will advise FTC staff and commissioners on policy and research. Additionally, it will shine a spotlight on emerging tech and market trends that affect the FTC's work.
“Actually being able to have staff internally to approach these matters and help with subject matter expertise is critical," FTC chief technology officer Stephanie Nguyen, who will lead the department, told The Washington Post. The agency aims to more than double its number of technology-focused staff from 10 to around 22.
“The areas ... we will focus on is to work on cases,” Ngyuen said. “This means understanding the specific market and business models. This means articulating the platform’s technologies and services. And this means analyzing the competition and key market players.”
With more expertise and a deeper understanding of how tech companies operate, the office could help the agency fine-tune subpoenas and the details of settlements to make them more impactful. The team will help fellow FTC bureaus with other cases (most companies use tech, after all), but its core mandate is to keep a close eye on the tech sector.
The move to create the office and expand the agency's roster of tech experts comes at a time of great upheaval in the industry. Microsoft and Google recently detailed plans to embed AI chatbots into their search engines and other services.