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Biden to name Big Tech antitrust foe Lina Khan to FTC

The White House on Monday announced Biden’s intent to nominate Khan to the five-member agency. He has yet to pick a permanent head of the commission.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden. (REUTERS)

President Joe Biden will nominate Columbia Law School Professor Lina Khan to the Federal Trade Commission, arming the agency with an antitrust expert who rose to prominence by warning about the power of dominant technology companies.

The White House on Monday announced Biden’s intent to nominate Khan to the five-member agency. He has yet to pick a permanent head of the commission.

Khan’s selection for the FTC and the hiring of Columbia Law’s Tim Wu as a White House adviser indicate that Biden is prepared to pursue a more interventionist antitrust agenda in which officials are quicker to challenge mergers and the market power of dominant companies.

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Khan’s confirmation would place at the top of U.S. competition policy circles a proponent of breaking up technology giants to protect competition in digital markets. She is at the forefront of a school of antitrust thinking that says the traditional playbook for policing mergers and anticompetitive conduct is failing to do its job, leading to concentrated economic and political power.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, praised Biden’s choice of Khan.

“We need all hands on deck as we work to take on some of the biggest monopolies in the world,” she said in a statement, “and President Biden is making his commitment to competition policy clear.”

Khan has also drawn criticism for her support of reorienting antitrust enforcement to rein in conduct by dominant companies. When she first emerged as a possible candidate for the FTC, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah called her views on antitrust “wildly out of step with a prudent approach to the law.”

Her nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

Khan said on Twitter that she is “very honored and humbled by this nomination, and excited to get to work.”

Her nomination comes as leadership of the FTC is in flux. The agency, which is being run by Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Biden must pick a permanent chair and fill one other open seat on the commission. He has nominated FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Still in her early 30s, Khan burst onto the scene in 2017 with a paper on Amazon.com Inc. that she wrote as a Yale University law student. The paper, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” outlined how the current framework for assessing harm to competition shields digital platforms from antitrust scrutiny by government enforcers despite the power they wield.

Khan went on to work at the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think tank in Washington, and worked as an adviser to Chopra. More recently she was a counsel on the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, which conducted a 16-month investigation of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Amazon.

Khan was one of the authors of the panel’s report on the investigation, which accused the tech firms of abusing their roles as gatekeepers in the digital economy and in the process eroding innovation, entrepreneurship, privacy and consumer choice. It also included a series of recommendations for antitrust reforms from restricting mergers to breaking up digital platforms.

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