Biden nominates antitrust advocate as FTC commissioner

Big tech critic Lina Khan has advocated for expanding antitrust laws

The FTC crest on a building

President Joe Biden has announced he will nominate long-time antitrust advocate Lina Khan as Federal Trade Commission (FTC) commissioner.

Khan, an associate professor of Law at Columbia Law School, teaches antitrust law. She served as counsel to the US Home Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, leading its investigation into digital markets. She also advised Commissioner Rohit Chopra at the FTC and served as legal director of the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly non-profit that applauded her nomination yesterday.

Her appointment will be seen as a threat to big tech companies that have repeatedly tussled with the US government on antitrust issues. In 2017, she published an article in the Yale Law Journal, Amazon's Antitrust Paradox, in which she warned against allowing anti-competitive behavior simply because the company gave customers cheap prices. 

Chopra voiced concerns that companies who own the platforms on which they compete are problematic. She’s also advocated for an expansion of antitrust law.

Aside from big tech’s competitive powers, there are also increasing calls for a federal consumer data protection law to mirror what California and Virginia have passed at a state level.

Khan's appointment adds to a growing mood of anti-monopoly concern at the FTC, which sued Facebook last year over antitrust practices. Last week, acting FTC chair Rebecca Slaughter testified before the Judiciary Committee Khan served on, warning the FTC needed to take a more aggressive, preventative stance on antitrust issues and mentioning Facebook by name.

"While there are a number of novel, cutting edge cases in the agency’s record over the last several years, there are far too many cases on this list that reflect transactions or conduct that never should have left the boardroom," Slaughter said. "It is clear we have a deterrence problem."

Khan is not the first antitrust hawk to win favor with the Biden administration. Sarah Miller, head of the anti-monopoly group the American Economic Liberties Project, was on his transition team and called for the then-president-elect Biden to break up Google and Facebook.

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