Dialing in to Washington – Mlex reports from the 68th ABA Antitrust Law “Virtual” Spring Meeting

Dialing in to Washington – Mlex reports from the 68th ABA Antitrust Law “Virtual” Spring Meeting

The Covid-19 emergency has upended even the most established norms. Gone were the cocktails, camaraderie and conference speeches, and the American Bar association instead moved online, producing a series of live and recorded “virtual” panels spread over most of a fortnight including the annual antitrust law spring meeting, the largest gathering of competition and consumer protection professionals from around the world.

The European Commission’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said the pandemic shouldn’t be a “shield” for anticompetitive mergers, while the US Federal Trade Commission’s Rebecca Slaughter said her agency must be vigilant for merger defenses such as failing firm arguments.

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What is the current state of anti-trust laws? 

In the US, it’s clear that disputes between federal and state antitrust enforcers can prolong merger reviews – a situation seen clearly in the T-Mobile-Sprint deal. One California official said that differences between the two can result in tougher enforcement, while the US Department of Justice’s antitrust head said the states’ failed attempt to challenge the merger prevented federal-state divergence from throwing regulatory certainty “out of whack.” 

The awkward siblings of antitrust and privacy continued to rub up against each other, with FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips saying his agency’s massive $5 billion privacy settlement with Facebook actually stopped beneficial data-sharing. Meanwhile, Andrew Smith, the agency’s lead consumer-protection official, said dominant companies can benefit from privacy rules.

 How has anti- trust enforces reacted to big tech companies? 

Officials from both sides of the Atlantic stressed that their white-hot scrutiny of Big Tech will continue unabated. Vestager floated plans to heap more responsibilities on “gatekeepers” and stop online markets from “tipping.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned that Google’s adtech business was creating a “strategic bottleneck” on user data. Meanwhile, the Canada Competition Bureau said it had gathered “incredible intelligence” through its recent digital market study that will boost current cases and lead to new ones. 

So, the message is clear: the pandemic may have thrown working methods and well-established legal norms up in the air, but life goes on and agencies are on the hunt for classic cartels as well as the Big Tech abuses of the future. 

The ABA should be applauded for salvaging a slick and comprehensive program from an impossible situation. And the sight of enforcers sharing tips about dog-walking habits and lockdown fashion choices was a refreshing change. 

MLex was listening in to all the virtual receptions, podcasts and video conferences, and this report brings you an unrivalled, insight into the issues at hand. Please enjoy our comprehensive coverage of a unique event.

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About the author:

Louisa leads marketing for the in-house legal community at LexisNexis. She joined the dedicated in-house team at LexisNexis four years ago and has a passion for driving and facilitating initiatives which are customer-focused at their heart. Her vision is to support in-house counsel succeed in their fast-evolving role based on deep insight, data analysis and best practice gathered across the in-house community.

Prior to her in-house focused role, Louisa led the marketing for the bar and mid-market private practice sectors as well as product marketing lead for LexisPSL - LexisNexis' cloud based, practical guidance and legal research software solution.

She brings 20 years' marketing experience both client and agency side, specialising in B2B marketing in the Legal, TMT (Telco, Media and Technology) and Financial Services industries. In both South Africa, Europe and the UK.

Louisa is also an active member on the LexisNexis Gender Equality Matters (GEM) steering committee and is involved with the Families at LexisNexis Group which brings together, supports and lobbies for change those with an interest in balancing the challenges of work and family.