Big Tech adversary Lina Khan named FTC chief by Biden

By Robert Scammell

The US Senate has confirmed Lina Khan as the chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), putting a Big Tech critic at the head of the agency responsible for leading and enforcing antitrust and consumer protection cases.

As chair, she will steer the direction of the FTC and will vote along with four commissioners on enforcement matters. She has previously investigated Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google during her time as counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust.

Her appointment signals a desire from the Biden administration to rein in dominant tech companies.

The Senate on Tuesday approved her nomination as commissioner in a 69-28 vote. In a surprise move later that day, Democrat Amy Klobuchar noted during a Senate Judiciary antitrust hearing that Khan would become chair. The FTC has since confirmed her position as chair.

Khan, a Democrat, was first nominated by President Joe Biden for FTC commissioner in March. Her backing from some Republicans suggests there is bipartisan support to crack down on Big Tech companies.

At 32, Khan is the youngest person to lead the FTC. She was previously an associate professor teaching antitrust at Columbia Law School. In addition to her time at the US House Judiciary Committee, Khan has worked as legal adviser to FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra and legal director at the Open Markets Institute.

She will stay as FTC chair until 25 September 2024.

Khan rose to prominence in antitrust circles for her academic work on antitrust and competition policy.

In a paper published in 2017 for the Yale Law Review, she argued that evaluating antitrust complaints based solely on the harm to consumers – essentially prices – was no longer fit for the modern economy.

Online companies such as Amazon, she argued, benefit from both owning the marketplace and selling on it because they could access third-party seller information to gain a competitive advantage.

In November 2020 the European Commission opened an antitrust case against Amazon precisely for this reason.

In a statement, Khan said: “It is a tremendous honour to have been selected by President Biden to lead the Federal Trade Commission, I look forward to working with my colleagues to protect the public from corporate abuse. I’m very grateful to Acting Chairwoman Slaughter for her outstanding stewardship of the Commission.”

The FTC has previously slapped Facebook with a $5bn fine in 2019 for privacy violations stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Khan’s appointment comes as the House has released bipartisan bills aimed at clamping down on tech monopolies.