Democratic FTC commissioner: We're not going to fix Big Tech monopolies with little fines

Key Points
  • "We're not going to solve some of these problems just by small-time fines," FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra tells CNBC.
  • His remarks come hours after the House Judiciary Committee said it requested documents from Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google.
  • Antitrust probes into Big Tech companies have now been opened by the FTC, DOJ, state attorneys general and the Judiciary Committee.
Small-time fines won't change Big Tech: FTC commissioner
Small-time fines won't change Big Tech: FTC commissioner

FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra told CNBC on Friday that financial penalties won't be enough to address the concerns about the power of Big Tech.

"We're not going to solve some of these problems just by small-time fines that aren't going to change the underlying business model of these firms," Chopra, a Democrat, said on "Squawk Alley." "We actually have to take a hard look at whether these behemoths are killing off innovation and competition."

He assumed his role in May 2018 as one of five FTC commissioners, including the chairman. The agency's mission is to protect consumers by promoting competitiveness. No more than three commissioners can be from the same political party.

Chopra was one of two commissioners who voted against the Federal Trade Commission's recent $170 million fine of Google's YouTube. Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, the other FTC Democrat, also voted against it. The two FTC Democrats also dissented against the FTC's earlier $5 billion fine of Facebook over online privacy.

The social network said in July it is now facing an FTC antitrust probe. Last week, a team of state attorneys general announced it also would begin investigating Facebook. Google, which has faced a barrage of scrutiny from European Union regulators, became the subject of an antitrust investigation from 50 attorneys general on Monday.

Chopra said the "all hands on deck" approach to the investigations is beneficial because of the added resources. "We have to act if we see that they are breaking the law."

The FTC is also looking into whether Amazon uses anticompetitive business practices by interviewing small merchants who sell products on the e-commerce giant's marketplace, according to a Bloomberg report. Chopra declined to comment on that.

Chopra's remarks came hours after the House Judiciary Committee said it requested documents from Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google's parent company, Alphabet. That probe, announced by a group of bipartisan leaders, adds to a growing roster of antitrust investigations of tech companies.

The Justice Department opened its own a broad antitrust review of Big Tech this summer. It didn't name companies — only saying its inquiry focused on "market-leading online platforms." But The Wall Street Journal reported the probe represents another Washington threat for Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

The crescendo of concerns over competition in the online market extends beyond formal investigations. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has made a pledge to "break up" Big Tech a cornerstone of her campaign in the Democratic presidential primary. In addition, last week, tech investor Alan Patricof told CNBC he thought the companies had grown too powerful.

While some, including Patricof, have raised questions about whether current antitrust laws are outdated and therefore hard to apply to technology companies, Chopra said he believes there are things that can be done.

"When those investigations conclude that there is anticompetitive conduct, the courts can award divestitures and significant remedies that really make sure that those business models are not choking off competition and innovation," Chopra said.