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(Reuters) — Vast troves of consumer data collected by big technology companies allow them to gain a competitive edge and pose a threat to competition, the Federal Trade Commission’s Rohit Chopra said on Friday.
Personal data is powering the dominance of tech companies that offer basic services for free, which are ultimately “not really free,” Mr. Chopra, a Democrat, told the House of Representatives Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee during a hearing.
He also said small fines and financial penalties will not be enough to address concerns about the power of big tech firms, adding that regulators will need to take a closer look at that.
For example, earlier this year the FTC fined Facebook Inc. $5 billion over online privacy. Mr. Chopra voted against that decision.
There are several probes at the federal, state and congressional level aimed at determining if big technology companies — Alphabet Inc.-owned Google, Facebook, Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. — use their considerable clout in the online market illegally to hurt rivals or otherwise break competition law.
Once lauded as engines of economic growth, these companies have increasingly been on the defensive over their outsized market influence. Politicians including President Donald Trump, consumers, other firms and regulators have criticized that power.
Earlier this week, the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee said that they had begun receiving data from these companies as part of their probe into the companies’ potential breaches of antitrust law.
Democrat David Cicilline, who chairs the antitrust subcommittee, said on Friday the committee has received “tens of thousands of documents” and is expecting more.
Mark Wilson, chief executive of U.K.-based Aviva P.L.C., said that the insurer is considering acquisitions in artificial intelligence and big data as it looks to overhaul the insurance industry and transform itself into a fintech firm, Eastern Daily Press reported. The insurer is spending £100 million ($128.4 million) annually on digital development to ensure the business remains a step ahead of its rivals, Mr. Wilson said. Aviva is focused on buying start-up firms to plug skills gaps within the business, he added.