At a time when the business is under fire from Congress, regulators, and state attorneys general, US President Joe Biden appointed an outspoken critic of Big Tech as a top federal regulator on Tuesday.
The appointment of Pakistan-born legal scholar Lina Khan to lead the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is seen as signalling a tough stance against tech behemoths such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Khan was sworn in as FTC chair just hours after the Senate voted 69-28 to confirm her as one of the commission’s five members.
Khan was born in London to Pakistani parents who immigrated to the United States when she was 11 years old, according to The New York Times.
Khan is a professor at Columbia Law School, and she made a splash in the antitrust world in 2017 as a Yale law student with her mammoth scholarly dissertation, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.”
She was instrumental in laying the groundwork for a new approach to antitrust law that went beyond the effects of market dominance on consumer costs. She played a major role in a wide bipartisan inquiry of the internet giants’ market strength as counsel to a House Judiciary antitrust panel in 2019 and 2020.
She is thought to be the youngest chair in the history of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates industry competition and consumer protection, as well as digital privacy.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has called for the tech industry to be broken up, said in a statement, “Lina brings great knowledge and skills to this post and will be a fierce fighter for consumers.”
Giant tech corporations are deserving of the increased attention they are receiving, and consolidation is suffocating competition across industries in the United States. We have a wonderful potential to accomplish substantial, structural change with Khan at the lead by restoring antitrust enforcement and combating monopolies that imperil our economy, society, and democracy.
Khan was also a legal adviser to FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra and the former legal director of the Open Markets Institute, an anti-corporate concentration organisation.
In a statement, Khan stated, “It is a terrific honour to have been nominated by President Biden to lead the Federal Trade Commission.” “I am excited to collaborate with my colleagues to safeguard the public from corporate wrongdoing.”
As a presidential contender, Biden suggested that dismantling the largest digital businesses be explored. He has also stated that he wants to see the social media corporations’ long-standing legal protections for speech on their platforms curtailed as soon as possible.
Tim Wu, an antitrust scholar and industry critic, was designated as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy within the National Economic Council by Biden in March.
Wu, a Columbia law professor like Khan, has served as a senior adviser to the Federal Trade Commission and a senior enforcement attorney in the New York attorney general’s office.
In recent years, the computer industry, which was once lauded by politicians and presidents as a source of innovation and jobs, has seen its political fortunes fade. There has been a growing call to split up the Silicon Valley behemoths.
Stronger monitoring of the tech industry is supported by lawmakers from both parties, who argue that the company’s immense market dominance is out of control, crushing smaller competitors and jeopardising consumers’ privacy. According to them, the firms use a legal cloak to allow misleading material to grow 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 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.
Following the findings of the Judiciary panel’s investigation into Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers proposed sweeping legislation to rein in Big Tech on Friday, potentially forcing the tech giants to break up their businesses while making it more difficult for them to acquire others. Mandatory breakups through a legislative revision would be a bold step for Congress to take, and for some Republican members, it might be too far.
Some Republican lawmakers have chastised a new school of antitrust thinking championed by Khan and Wu and gaining traction among Democrats, which looks beyond the effects of market dominance on consumer costs to other factors.e 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.