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Lauren Willard

Lauren Willard is a partner in Covington’s Antitrust/Competition and Appellate practices. Drawing on her deep substantive antitrust experience in both the government and private practice, Lauren represents and advises clients on a variety of antitrust matters. She defends clients in complex civil litigation and class actions, counsels on mergers and acquisitions, and represents clients before federal regulators. She also represents clients in appellate matters before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals.

Lauren rejoined Covington after spending four years at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) working on antitrust and appellate matters, with a particular focus on competition in the digital economy. She served as a Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division, where she worked on a range of merger and conduct matters and served as the Front Office liaison to the International and Appellate sections. She also drafted several amicus briefs and statements of interest and coordinated with the Office of the Solicitor General and Civil Division on appellate matters involving antitrust issues. Lauren accepted a career detail to the Office of the Attorney General to lead the DOJ’s review of market-leading online platforms. In that role, she advised the Attorney General on the application of antitrust to technology platforms, managed antitrust investigations related to technology platforms, and coordinated with the States Attorneys General. Lauren also chaired the DOJ’s working group on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and drafted legislation that was cleared through the interagency process and presented to Congress. Following her detail, Lauren returned to the Antitrust Division, where she worked directly on the DOJ’s trial team in US v. Google, one of the biggest government antitrust monopolization litigations in the past 20 years.

After graduating from the University Virginia School of Law, she served as a law clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court and Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

May 18, 2023, Covington Alert

Today, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Gonzalez v. Google LLC, a case about whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230) protected YouTube’s recommendation algorithms from a claim of secondary liability under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). In a short, three-page per curiam opinion

In recent years, there has been increasing antitrust scrutiny around the world of large technology companies. The increased attention on competition in the digital economy started outside of the United States. Since 2019, however, the U.S. antitrust enforcers—the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) as well as numerous state attorneys general—have closely scrutinized and brought enforcement actions against some of the largest tech companies. This client alert provides an overview of the recent competition enforcement trends, specifically: (1) key topics at issue in many tech investigations; (2) the increased focus on competition in labor markets; and (3) the U.S. FTC’s new, expansive interpretation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. In view of this uncertain landscape, tech companies should stay on top of these enforcement trends and potential risks they face.

Key Topics at Issue in Investigations of Tech Companies

Investigations of technology companies follow similar principles to investigations in other industries, but there are some concepts that the antitrust authorities have been considering more closely in the context of the tech industry. First is the concept of “gatekeepers,” which the government agencies have used to describe any entity that sits between users and suppliers/merchants. The agencies have shown a particular interest in large intermediaries and have expressed concern that certain intermediaries may be able use their position to increase fees, obtain restrictive terms, and extend their position in the marketplace. At the same time, intermediaries in the tech industry have generated significant benefits, including by lowering transaction costs, helping sellers and customers to more easily find each other, and enabling new business models and innovations.

Another concept that sometimes arises in tech investigations related to intermediaries is “zero-price” products, where a company makes its products or services free to certain users and makes money either through different products, different consumers (like advertisers), or at a different point in time. The notion of “free” products is not unique to the tech industry. Ad-supported media – including radio, broadcast television, and newspapers – existed long before the rise of the digital economy. Nevertheless, the agencies are currently grappling with how to define relevant markets and measure competitive harm in the absence of price competition. For example, the traditional test applied by enforces to define relevant markets that looks at a small but significant and non-transitory increase in price (or “SSNIP”) does not directly translate to zero-priced goods. Similarly, alleged non-price harms to consumers are often harder to prove than an increase in price.Continue Reading Antitrust Enforcement Trends in the Digital Economy

On the heels of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions, and U.S.-China tensions over Taiwan, 2022 accelerated a sweeping effort within the U.S. government to make national security considerations—especially with respect to China—a key feature of new and existing regulatory processes. This trend toward broader national security regulation, designed to help maintain U.S. strategic advantage, has support from both Republicans and Democrats, including from the Biden Administration. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s remarks in September 2022 capture the tone shift in Washington: “…[W]e have to revisit the longstanding premise of maintaining ‘relative’ advantages over competitors in certain key technologies…That is not the strategic environment we are in today…[w]e must maintain as large of a lead as possible.”

This environment produced important legislative and regulatory developments in 2022, including the CHIPS and Science Act (Covington alert), first-ever Enforcement and Penalty Guidelines promulgated by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS” or the “Committee”) (Covington alert), President Biden’s Executive Order on CFIUS (Covington alert), new restrictions under U.S. export control authorities targeting China (Covington alert), and proposals for a new regime to review outbound investments by U.S. businesses (Covington alert). The common thread among these developments is the U.S. government’s continuing appetite to use both existing and new regulatory authorities to address identified national security risks, especially where perceived risks relate to China.

With a Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives riding the tailwinds of this bipartisan consensus, 2023 is looking like a pivotal moment for national security regulation—expanding beyond the use of traditional authorities such as trade controls and CFIUS, into additional regulatory domains touching upon data, communications, antitrust, and possibly more. In parallel, the U.S. focus on national security continues to gain purchase abroad, with foreign direct investment (“FDI”) regimes maturing in tandem with CFIUS, and outbound investment screening gaining traction, for example, in the European Union (“EU”). It is crucial for businesses to be aware of these developments and to approach U.S. regulatory processes with a sensitivity towards the shifting national security undercurrents described in greater detail below.Continue Reading Will 2023 Be an Inflection Point in National Security Regulation?

On Monday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Gonzalez v. Google LLC, 2 F.4th 871 (9th Cir. 2021) on the following question presented:  “Does section 230(c)(1) immunize interactive computer services when they make targeted recommendations of information provided by another information content provider, or only limit the liability of interactive computer services when they