Sep 18, 2020 - Technology

Exclusive: FTC commissioner on data privacy, antitrust, Section 230

Photo illustration of Noah Phillips, FTC Commissioner.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Republican member of the Federal Trade Commission Noah Phillips intends to stay at the agency through the end of his term, which is up in about three years, and has not yet decided what happens after, he told Axios during a taping of C-Span's "The Communicators" this week.

Why it matters: Phillips is one of three Republicans serving on the five-member agency, along with Chairman Joe Simons and Republican commissioner Christine Wilson. Their perspective holds sway at an agency that is pursuing big tech more aggressively than in the past, but still moves meticulously when bringing antitrust cases.

What they're saying: Phillips discussed a variety of tech topics in an interview with Axios taped for C-SPAN.

Federal privacy: The U.S. needs a federal standard, Phillips says, and it's okay that it's taking awhile for that to happen.

  • "This can be gotten wrong," he said, alluding to reports that GDPR in Europe is entrenching the biggest firms.
  • Meanwhile, leading Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee introduced privacy legislation Thursday.

Section 230: Congress is the place for any changes to the law that shields online platforms from liability for user-contributed content, Phillips said, and he doesn't believe it has any bearing on competition.

The future of independent agencies in the age of Trump: After the administration pulled FCC commissioner Mike O'Rielly's re-nomination, likely due to his comments on President Trumps' social media executive order, does Phillips worry about his agency's independence? "Fundamentally, no," he said. "We have a protection against being fired... at the end of the day, it's the five commissioners who make the decisions."

Antitrust law is for consumers, not competitors: Phillips said he thinks people are putting too much into the "vessel" of antitrust.

  • "I've seen everything from 'democracy would be restored,' to racial justice, the environment...these are important policy questions, but it's not clear at all to me that antitrust was designed to solve these problems," he said.

On reports that President Trump may be trying to line up a replacement for FTC Chairman Joe Simons:

  • "I have certainly seen nothing that suggests that Chairman Simons is leaving because the president wants him to," Phillips said.
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