WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden put an outspoken critic of Big Tech in charge of a top federal agency on Tuesday. This comes at a time when Congress, regulators, and state attorneys general are putting a lot of pressure on the industry.
People think that the choice of Lina Khan, a lawyer, to lead the Federal Trade Commission shows that big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple will be treated harshly. Khan was sworn in as FTC chair just a few hours after the Senate voted 69-28 to make her one of the five members of the commission.
Khan is a professor at Columbia University Law School. As a Yale law student in 2017, she wrote “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” a huge academic paper that made a big splash in the antitrust world. She helped set up a new way of thinking about antitrust law that goes beyond the effect of big companies’ market dominance on prices for consumers. As a lawyer for a House Judiciary antitrust panel in 2019 and 2020, she was a key part of a broad, bipartisan investigation into the tech giant’s market power.
She is 32 years old and is thought to be the youngest chair of the FTC in its history. The FTC is in charge of competition, consumer protection, and digital privacy.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has called for the tech industry to be broken up, said in a statement, “Lina brings deep knowledge and expertise to this role and will be a fearless champion for consumers.” “Giant tech companies deserve to be looked at more closely, and the consolidation of American industries is making it harder for people to compete. With Chair Khan in charge, we have a huge chance to make big, structural changes by reviving antitrust enforcement and fighting monopolies that hurt our economy, society, and democracy.
Khan was also FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra’s legal adviser, and he used to be the legal director of the Open Markets Institute, a group that fought against companies having too much power.
Khan said in a statement that it was a great honor to be chosen by President Biden to lead the Federal Trade Commission. “I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to make sure corporations don’t hurt the public.”
As a candidate for president, Joe Biden said that the big tech companies should be broken up. He has also said that he wants the long-standing legal protections for speech on social media platforms to be cut quickly.
Tim Wu, an academic expert on antitrust and critic of the business world, was named a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy in the National Economic Council by Vice President Joe Biden in March. Wu, like Khan, is a law professor at Columbia. He has been a senior adviser to the FTC and a senior enforcement attorney in the New York attorney general’s office.
In the past, lawmakers and presidents looked up to the tech industry as a source of innovation and jobs. However, in recent years, the tech industry’s political standing has been getting worse. There have been more calls to break up the big companies in Silicon Valley.
Lawmakers from both parties want the tech industry to be more closely watched. They say that the tech industry’s huge market power is out of control, hurting smaller competitors and putting consumers’ privacy at risk. They say that the companies hide behind legal protections to let false information spread on their social media networks or to keep bias going.
Last fall, the Trump administration’s Justice Department and a few states sued Google in a groundbreaking antitrust case. They said that the search giant was hurting competition by using its market dominance. Then, in December, the FTC and a number of states brought another big antitrust suit against Facebook.
Amazon and Apple are the subjects of an investigation by the independent, nonpartisan FTC and the Justice Department, which is now under Biden’s leadership. Like Facebook and Google, Twitter is often in trouble with the law because of how it moderates content on its platform.
A group of House lawmakers from both parties was inspired by the results of the Judiciary Committee’s investigation of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. On Friday, they proposed sweeping legislation to rein in Big Tech, which could force the giants to break up their businesses and make it harder for them to buy others. Insisting on these kinds of breakups as part of a legislative overhaul would be a radical step for Congress to take, and some Republican lawmakers might find it too far.
Some Republican lawmakers have criticized a new way of thinking about antitrust that is being led by Khan and Wu and gaining popularity among Democrats. This way of thinking looks beyond how big companies’ market dominance affects consumer prices and considers how it affects industries, workers, and communities as a whole.
People who don’t like the school call it “hipster antitrust.” Republicans say that this is an example of how Democrats want to use antitrust law not to promote competition but to further social or environmental goals.
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