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Tech Fight Puts Former FTC Officials in High Demand

Harper Neidig THEHILL.COM

Large tech companies are tapping former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials for help as they face growing regulatory scrutiny over their privacy practices and market power.

In two landmark privacy enforcement actions the agency imposed on Facebook and Equifax last month, both companies were represented by former top FTC officials in their respective negotiations.

Facebook enlisted Sean Royall, an attorney with the firm Gibson Dunn, who was previously a deputy director in the FTC’s Bureau of Competition from 2001 to 2003, according to the law firm’s website. Current FTC Chairman Joseph Simons was the bureau’s director at the time.

And Edith Ramirez, a Democrat who was selected by then-President Obama in 2013 to chair the FTC, represented Equifax over privacy charges stemming from their massive 2017 data breach. Ramirez, who left the agency in February 2017 to join the law firm Hogan Lovells, has also defended Google-owned YouTube against a class action lawsuit over children's privacy. A federal judge in South Carolina threw the case out in April.

The FTC is currently finalizing a settlement with YouTube over allegations it violated children’s privacy laws. It is unclear whether Ramirez is representing the company in those discussions. A spokesman for Hogan Lovells declined to comment for this article.

The revolving door between agencies and private law firms is not unique to the FTC. But the moves by Facebook and Equifax highlight how the FTC’s targets are increasingly turning towards former officials as the agency intensifies its oversight amid new political pressure from Washington.

Earlier this year, the FTC announced a new task force to review antitrust concerns around Silicon Valley with a mandate that includes reviewing issues about past mergers.

And just hours after Facebook and the FTC announced a $5 billion privacy settlement, the company revealed that it was also facing an antitrust investigation from the agency.

Outside the FTC, Silicon Valley is also facing antitrust probes from the House of Representatives, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and a coalition of state attorneys general.

That has the private sector’s demand for former FTC attorneys surging, according to Jeffrey Lowe, a top legal headhunter. Lowe, a partner with the legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, told The Hill that law firms have been staffing up to deal with the investigations.

“It's not like it was a dormant market, it's already been strong and has been for a number of years," he said. "And now it's just intensifying."

Lowe said that he helped place Republican Maureen Ohlhausen and Democrat Terrell McSweeney, the two most recent commissioners to leave the FTC, at the prestigious law firms Baker Botts and Covington & Burling, respectively.

“I can tell you that the desire to have them was very, very strong,” he said.

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