Joe Biden reportedly plans to name Lina Khan, an antitrust researcher who has focused on the immense market power of big tech, as chair of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a key win for progressives who have pushed for tougher laws to tackle monopolies and growing corporate power.
The Senate confirmed Khan as a commissioner to the FTC earlier on Tuesday, with strong bipartisan support. Biden intends to tap her as chair of the commission, sources told Reuters, a decision that follows the selection of fellow progressive and big tech critic Tim Wu to join the National Economic Council.
The appointment comes as the federal government and groups of states have issued an array of lawsuits and investigations into the tech giants. The FTC has sued Facebook and is investigating Amazon while the justice department has sued Alphabet’s Google.
Khan is highly respected by progressive antitrust thinkers who have pushed for tougher antitrust laws or at least tougher enforcement of existing law.
She most recently taught at Columbia Law School, but was on the staff of the House judiciary committee’s antitrust panel, and helped write a report that sharply criticized Amazon, Apple Facebook and Alphabet for allegedly abusing their dominance.
In 2017, she wrote a highly regarded article, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox”, for the Yale Law Journal which argued that the traditional antitrust focus on price was inadequate to identify antitrust harms done by Amazon.
The progressive civil rights organization Color of Change applauded the decision, saying it signaled “a long-awaited commitment to antitrust reform from the federal government”.
“It’s clear these tech corporations are unable to adequately self-regulate, because they continue to operate on broken business models that prioritize growth and profit above Black lives and the integrity of our democracy,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. “Government intervention is necessary to check their outsized power and end this era of corporate greed and monopolization.”
Many conservative groups also approved of the choice, including the advocacy group the Internet Accountability Project (IAP), which said the vote was “testament to the sea change in opinion on the right for antitrust modernization and enforcement”.
“Big tech brought this on themselves with their abusive, censorial and anticompetitive behavior,” the group said. “The era of unchecked big tech monopoly power is over.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted that the administration’s selection of Khan was “tremendous news”.
“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,” Warren said in a separate statement.
In addition to antitrust, the FTC investigates allegations of deceptive advertising. On that front, Khan will join an agency which is painfully adapting to a unanimous supreme court ruling from April which said the agency could not use a particular part of its statute, 13(b), to demand consumers get restitution from deceptive companies but can only ask for an injunction. Congress is considering a legislative fix.
Khan previously worked at the FTC as a legal adviser to Commissioner Rohit Chopra, Biden’s pick to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Reuters contributed to this report