Lina Khan, Big Tech critic and anti-trust scholar, to lead FTC

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Lina Khan, a legal scholar and energetic critic of the tech industry, as the Federal Trade Commission chair. Ms. Khan’s selection signals the Biden administration’s focus on stronger oversight of the tech industry.

Saul Loeb/AP
Lina Khan speaks during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 21, 2021. Ms. Khan, a critic of the tech industry, was sworn in as FTC chair on June 15, 2021 just hours after the Senate confirmed her nomination as a commissioner.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday installed an energetic critic of Big Tech as a top federal regulator at a time when the industry is under intense pressure from Congress, regulators, and state attorneys general.

The selection of legal scholar Lina Khan to head the Federal Trade Commission is seen as signaling a tough stance toward tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Ms. Khan was sworn in as FTC chair just hours after the Senate confirmed her as one of five members of the commission on a 69-28 vote.

Ms. Khan has been a professor at Columbia University Law School and burst onto the antitrust scene with her massive scholarly work in 2017 as a Yale law student, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” She helped lay the foundation for a new way of looking at antitrust law beyond the impact of big-company market dominance on consumer prices. As counsel to a House Judiciary antitrust panel in 2019 and 2020, she played a key role in a sweeping bipartisan investigation of the market power of the tech giants.

At 32, she is believed to be the youngest chair in the history of the FTC, which polices competition and consumer protection in industry generally as well as digital privacy.

“Lina brings deep knowledge and expertise to this role and will be a fearless champion for consumers,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has called for tech industry breakups, said in a statement. “Giant tech companies deserve the growing scrutiny they are facing, and consolidation is choking off competition across American industries. 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.”

Ms. Khan also was a legal adviser to Rohit Chopra, an FTC commissioner, and was previously legal director of the Open Markets Institute, an organization that advocates against corporate concentration.

“It is a tremendous honor to have been selected by President Biden to lead the Federal Trade Commission,” Ms. Khan said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to protect the public from corporate abuse.”

Mr. Biden said as a presidential candidate that dismantling the big tech companies should be considered. He also has said he wants to see quickly crimped the social media companies’ long-held legal protections for speech on their platforms.

Mr. Biden in March appointed Tim Wu, also an academic expert on antitrust and industry critic, as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy within the National Economic Council. Mr. Wu, like Ms. Khan a Columbia law professor, has been a senior adviser to the FTC and a senior enforcement attorney in the New York attorney general’s office.

The tech industry, once lionized by lawmakers and presidents as an engine of innovation and jobs, has seen its political fortunes eroded in recent years. Calls have been rising to break up the Silicon Valley giants.

Lawmakers of both parties champion stronger oversight of the tech industry, arguing that its massive market power is out of control, crushing smaller competitors and endangering consumers’ privacy. They say the companies hide behind a legal shield to allow false information to flourish on their social media networks or to entrench bias.

Last fall the Trump Justice Department, joined by states, filed a ground-breaking antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the search giant of abusing its market dominance to stifle competition. That was followed in December by another big antitrust suit, brought by the FTC and an array of states.

Amazon and Apple are under scrutiny by antitrust enforcers at the Justice Department, now in Mr. Biden’s purview, and the independent, bipartisan FTC. Twitter has joined Facebook and Google in facing frequent run-ins with lawmakers over its policies for moderating content on its platform.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers, animated by the results of the Judiciary panel investigation of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple, proposed sweeping legislation Friday to rein in Big Tech, possibly forcing the giants to break up their businesses while making it harder for them to acquire others. Those kinds of mandated breakups through a legislative overhaul would be a radical step for Congress to take and could be a bridge too far for some Republican lawmakers.

Some Republican lawmakers have denounced the new school of antitrust thought, championed by Ms. Khan and Mr. Wu and gaining currency among Democrats, that looks beyond the impact of big-company market dominance on consumer prices to its broader effects on industries, employees, and communities.

The school is called “hipster antitrust” by its detractors. With this approach, Democrats are seeking to use antitrust law not to promote competition but to advance social or environmental goals, the Republicans contend.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.