Although Delrahim did not mention any specific company by name, the comments could have major implications at a moment when the agency is investigating tech giants including Google.
"Although privacy is primarily within the Consumer Protection Act, it would be a serious mistake to believe that privacy concerns can never play a role in the antitrust analysis," Delrahim said.
He later added, "Without competition, a dominant company can more easily reduce quality ̵
1; for example, by reducing privacy – without losing a significant number of users."
Delrahim's speech may have special significance for tech giants including Amazon , Facebook, and Google, which face competition-focused investigations in Washington for their business practices, such warnings are a known refrain in Europe, where antitrust regulators have tried and punished tech giants for exerting their huge data stores in anticompetitive ways. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
With Amazon, a major concern is the e-commerce giant's collection of sales data from third-party merchants and whether the tech giant is able to leverage its unique position against smaller rivals. In Facebook's case, the fear is that no competitor could ever launch a viable social network by themselves because they could never m atche Facebook's data warehouse – a serious threat to users, experts say, given the company's pockmarked privacy record.
And for Google, advocates of aggressive antitrust action against the tech industry are having trouble with their unparalleled view of users' lives from the wide range of services they offer – from the search engine to the Android smartphone operating system. Federal regulators are likely to confront this problem directly in the coming months, following Google's announcement that they will acquire FitBit, a wearable company, for $ 2.1 billion. The purchase, if approved, could give the tech giant access to even more information – this time, about the unit owners' health and well-being.
Without commenting on them or other companies, Delrahim said collecting data is not in itself anti-competitive – rather, it is about what is done with that data. He delivered the message in front of a Harvard Law School antitrust conference hosted by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which counts Amazon, Facebook and Google as members.
"Gathering a large amount of data is not necessarily competitive," he said. "The more complicated question for enforcers is how data is collected, analyzed and used, and most importantly about these practices damaging competition."
Delrahim said the Department of Justice is "particularly vigilant" when a company "cuts off a profitable relationship that provides business partners with important data, code or other technological input in ways that conflict with the company's financial interests."
And the Justice Department Antitrust Manager also emphasized that the agency is aware of the effects on users as well: "Just as antitrust enforcers care about companies that demand higher prices or degrade quality as a sign of allocative inefficiency, it may be important to investigate circumstances where companies provide or obtain more data from consumers in exchange for less. "