with Aaron Schaffer

The tech industry’s top European adversary said she was “really encouraged” by a recent flurry of antitrust action in the United States, following years of inaction. 

Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s top competition commissioner, praised President Biden’s recent executive order that spelled out 72 actions government agencies should take to encourage competition throughout the economy. That directive focused on tech companies’ data collection, surveillance practices and acquisitions, in a challenge to the path Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple took to dominance.

“I find that this executive order exactly puts a finger on something really important, that people in their everyday life should have the benefit of competition, of fair competition,” said Margrethe Vestager.

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission executive vice president, said she’s “really encouraged” by President Biden’s recent executive order targeting big tech companies. “I find that this executive order exactly puts a finger on something really important that people in their everyday life should have the benefit of competition.” (Washington Post Live)
Vestager has emerged as one of the world’s most influential regulators.

Before federal antitrust enforcers in the U.S. opened investigations into tech giants such as Amazon and Google, Vestager was bringing challenges against their business practices. Her work is gaining international attention amid concerns about the business practices of the tech titans. Yet regulators, especially in the United States, have struggled to keep pace with the fast-changing nature of digital markets.

Vestager said regulators' success in taking on the world's most powerful companies hinges on greater cooperation among democracies.

“We do not have a global competition enforcer, but we have global companies,” Vestager said at a Washington Post Live interview. “The more we are aligned, the better chance we have.”

Vestager also had a “really great” meeting with Lina Khan, the new Federal Trade Commission chair. 

Vestager could find a partner in Khan, who has a long history of criticizing powerful tech companies and calling for tougher antitrust enforcement. 

“She brings new ideas. She brings something that is within the tradition of the FTC but also that shows there’s a readiness to push enforcement,” Vestager said. “There is an alignment of thinking between us.”

Vestager spoke just days after a bipartisan group of state attorneys general brought an antitrust case against Google’s app store — at least the fourth federal or state competition complaint against the tech giant in the past year. But the burgeoning antitrust movement in the United States suffered a key blow just weeks ago, when a federal judge threw out the antitrust lawsuits against Facebook from state attorneys general and the FTC. The FTC has until July 28 to refile the case.

Vestager said she didn’t have specific advice for Khan as the FTC revisits the case, but she emphasized the importance of having “fresh eyes” to understand the fast-evolving dynamics of tech markets.

She also said that antitrust cases alone won’t be enough to address concerns about the behavior of tech companies.

Such cases often deal with specific issues and are limited in scope. The House Judiciary Committee recently advanced legislation targeting dominance in digital markets, and Europe has proposed sweeping rules for digital giants.

“It’s really important also to have a legislative approach,” Vestager said. “Competition cases are specific and they have their strengths, but I don’t think we can do without sending a very clear message from our democracy that this is how we want really powerful market participants to behave in order for the market to stay contestable.”

Her calls for cooperation among democracies come amid tensions between the United States and Europe over proposed taxes on tech giants. Vestager is scheduled to meet with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen on Tuesday. She said the E.U. has delayed its plans for a digital levy until October.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission executive vice president, said European Commission will delay its plans for a digital levy until October. "We have delayed until October, which should allow us to see details of the OECD agreement." (Washington Post Live)

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk took the stand in a Delaware courtroom and aggressively defended Tesla’s purchase of SolarCity.

Musk said the $2.6 billion acquisition was necessary for the companies and the Earth’s climate, Will Oremus and Gerrit De Vynck report. But things got testy as Musk responded to lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case, who argue that Musk acted in his own interest in making the deal.

“I think you are a bad human being,” Musk told Randall Baron, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Musk could be forced to pay as much as $2 billion to Tesla if he loses the suit. That won’t make much of a difference to the billionaire, but it would be a high-profile rebuke of his leadership style. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Facebook delayed a long-awaited brand safety audit.

The move came a year after the social media giant publicly committed to having its advertising controls audited by the Media Rating Council, Digiday’s Kate Kaye reports. The body is waiting for Facebook to finish internal readiness work, which Facebook says is underway.

Facebook initially told the Media Rating Council that it would allow the audit to begin by the end of June.

“We are on track to complete our readiness and start the audit in July,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We’re looking to achieve accreditation with the MRC by the end of this year.” But the MRC and Facebook have not yet signed a formal contract laying out the scope of the audit, MRC and Facebook spokespeople said.

Internet providers take advantage of consumers because they lack competition and rules, a Post columnist writes.

Misleading and more expensive Internet bills are frustratingly common and completely legal, Geoffrey A. Fowler writes. It’s a problem that has hit Americans especially hard as they navigate life online during the pandemic.

It is partially driven by a lack of competition in many parts of the United States. Some 200 million people live in areas with only one or two options for fast Internet, according to a recent report from the White House.

Advocacy groups are trying to boost transparency of the bills. The advocacy arm of Consumer Reports launched a first-of-its kind online initiative where Americans can upload their bills so the group can analyze related data.

The Biden administration has also shown some movement on the issue, asking the Federal Communications Commission to revive broadband nutrition labels. “This issue is a major concern for consumers and one that the FCC acted upon in the past and needs to address again,” acting FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.

Rant and rave

Facebook is trying to court content creators, the New York Timess Mike Isaac and Taylor Lorenz write, but its had a slow start. Voxs Nisha Chittal:

Our colleague, Gene Park:

Inside the industry

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  • Ryan Thornton, who previously worked as the Information Technology Industry Council’s senior communications manager, has joined Uber as its senior associate of external affairs.

Daybook

  • Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) discusses regional tech centers at a Brookings Institution event today at 9 a.m.
  • A House Judiciary Committee panel holds a hearing on federal law enforcement agencies’ use of facial recognition technology today at 10 a.m.
  • Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks at a Washington Post Live event today at 10:15 a.m.
  • The Atlantic Council hosts an event on the international negotiations over digital taxes on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
  • The Internet Governance Forum USA conference kicks off at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday with a keynote by Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the director of the International Telecommunication Union’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.

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