UPDATED 23:19 EST / JUNE 15 2021

POLICY

White House names big tech critic Lina Khan as chair of FTC

Lina Khan, an antitrust researcher and longtime critic of big tech’s market dominance, was sworn in today as the new chair of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

President Biden’s choice comes a day after the Senate voted 69-28 in favor of having Khan (pictured) serve as a commissioner on the FTC. The choice sends a strong message to some of the biggest names in tech that have faced scrutiny for a long time now over their growing market power.

Khan leaves a teaching position at Columbia Law School, but for a long time now she’d been renowned for her progressive views on tech behemoths. As a student at Yale, she wrote a scathing paper stating how antitrust laws as they stand were not sufficient to rein in Amazon.com Inc.’s market power.

In her conclusion to that paper, she wrote what many critics of big tech have been saying, in that if “we accept dominant online platforms as natural monopolies or oligopolies, then applying elements of a public utility regime or essential facilities obligations would maintain the benefits of scale while limiting the ability of dominant platforms to abuse the power that comes with it.”

As a member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust investigation, Khan helped write a report on the monopolies held by Amazon, as well as Google LLC, Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. Reports state that her main focus was on Google, a company that is currently facing a lot of scrutiny for its market power.

Khan has said that it’s only too easy for one monopoly to expand into another market and monopolize that, while smaller competitors are crushed. According to her, and the many Democrats that support her, this has negative effects on the consumer in the end, as well as on the industry in general.

Her detractors have called such views part of a “hipster antitrust” movement in the realm of populism. Few Republicans have spoken about the appointment thus far, which is perhaps indicative of criticism of big tech’s power crossing party lines in different ways.

“Lina Khan’s antitrust activism detracts from the Federal Trade Commission’s reputation as an impartial body that enforces the law in a nondiscriminatory fashion,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel. NetChoice is a trade group whose members consist of large tech firms, including Amazon.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has been vocal for some time now regarding the breaking up of big tech. In a statement, she said, “With Chair Khan at the helm, we have a huge opportunity to make big, structural change by reviving antitrust enforcement and fighting monopolies that threaten our economy, our society, and our democracy.”

None of the tech companies mentioned has commented on Khan’s appointment as yet.

Photo: New America/Flickr

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