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Happy 100th, FTC

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One hundred years ago Friday, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Trade Commission Act into law, creating the agency of the same name. Since then, the FTC has played an outsize role in the U.S. economy, affecting all of us.

The commission’s mandate is “to prevent business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers.”

“I don’t think the mission of the FTC has changed really at all,” says David Thomas, who worked for the agency in the early 2000s. What has changed over the last century is the agency’s focus — from monopolies during the Progressive Era to deceptive advertising and privacy issues.

“When new issues arise in the American economy, the FTC has the tools to deal with them,” says Bill MacLeod, chair of the antitrust practice group at the law firm Kelley Drye. He says the commission pays a lot of attention to technology, data security and virtual currencies, like Bitcoin. “The FTC today is as different as the means and media of communication are today,” MacLeod says.

The commission still has to approve mergers — that is a responsibility it shares with the Department of Justice. And right now it’s considering some big ones, including Zillow and Trulia, and Sysco’s proposed merger with US Foods.

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