President Joe Biden on Tuesday installed an energetic critic of Big Tech as a top federal regulator amidst 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.
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.
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.
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,” Khan said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to protect the public from corporate abuse.”
Biden in March had 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.
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.
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 and the independent, bipartisan FTC.
Some Republican lawmakers have denounced the new school of antitrust thought, championed by Khan and 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.