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Big tech critic Lina Khan becomes new FTC chair

The antitrust researcher was sworn in yesterday, a move welcomed by legislators looking to address big tech’s growing market power

Antitrust researcher Lina Khan has been sworn in as the chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a move that has been welcomed by legislators who are keen to clamp down on big tech’s market power.

President Biden named Khan, a Democrat, to a term on the commission that expires on 25 September 2024. She was confirmed by the US Senate on Tuesday.

Before becoming chair, Khan was associate professor of law at Columbia Law School. She has also served as counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, as legal adviser to FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, and as legal director at the Open Markets Institute.

“It is a tremendous honour to have been selected by president Biden to lead the Federal Trade Commission,” said Khan. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to protect the public from corporate abuse.”

US senator Elizabeth Warren called Khan’s appointment “tremendous news”.

“Giant tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon deserve the growing scrutiny they are facing, and consolidation is choking off competition across American industries,” she said.

“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." 

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In 2017, Khan published an article in the Yale Law Journal titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” which claimed the current framework in antitrust is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. It suggested two potential regimes for addressing Amazon’s power: “restoring traditional antitrust and competition policy principles or applying common carrier obligations and duties”.

“As a commissioner, Khan will take on corporate barons in Silicon Valley and throughout our economy,” said Alex Harman, competition policy advocate at Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organisation.

“Greedy and abusive corporations should be on notice that the FTC will no longer look the other way as they amass power to hurt consumers, treat competitors unfairly, and take advantage of workers.”

Khan’s appointment comes after a bipartisan group of legislators in the House of Representatives introduced five bills earlier this week aimed at reining in the power of big tech, with the potential to break them up. Judiciary Committee chairman David Cicilline stated that this agenda was being implemented to level the playing field and ensure the most powerful tech monopolies “play by the same rules as the rest of us”.

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