Attorney General William Barr has elevated a lawyer from the Justice Department’s antitrust division to be his point person on a broad review into whether giant technology companies are using their power to thwart competition, signaling his hands-on interest in the issue.
Lauren Willard has been appointed to serve as a counselor to Barr, according to a Justice Department official. She will report to Barr on developments in the review.
The Justice Department announced last month that the antitrust division “is reviewing whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.”
The investigation is a sign of the escalating pressure on tech giants, from Capitol Hill to President Donald Trump, who accuses the companies of silencing conservative views. The giants of the industry have been criticized for practices that include the massive collection of user data, failing to police content on their platforms, and claims that they are harming competition and reducing choices for consumers.
Counselor to Delrahim
Willard joined the Justice Department in September 2018 to serve as a counselor to Makan Delrahim, head of the antitrust division. She worked on merger reviews, civil litigation and competition policy, particularly concerning technology platforms and digital markets.
Willard clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for Judge Alex Kozinski and on the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Anthony Kennedy, according to the department.
She earned her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
The Justice Department hasn’t named any companies that are under review or that will come under review.
Bloomberg has reported that U.S. antitrust agencies carved up oversight of four tech giants, with the department taking Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc., and the Federal Trade Commission claiming Facebook Inc. and Amazoncom Inc.
“If violations of law are identified, the department will proceed appropriately to seek redress,” the department said in a statement last month.
“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” Delrahim said in a statement at the time. “The department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”
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