Federal Trade Commission nominee Lina Khan on Wednesday expressed concerns to lawmakers about whether companies that rely on online behavioral advertising gather too much data about consumers.
“There are some really interesting questions to be asked specific to behavioral ad-based business models, insofar as these business models really incentivize endless vacuuming up of data,” Khan said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on her nomination. “I worry that in some cases, some of these companies may think it's just worth the cost of business to actually violate privacy laws.”
Her statement about behavioral advertising in response to a question by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who asked about her views on the risks posed by big technology companies.
Cruz elaborated that he was especially interested in Big Tech's supposed “censorship” of viewpoints. Cruz, like some other prominent conservatives, has repeatedly accused Google, Facebook and Twitter of suppressing right-wing speech -- despite a lack of evidence that companies' content-moderation policies favor liberal views.
Khan didn't directly answer Cruz's question about alleged censorship. If approved by the Senate, Khan would be one of three Democratic commissioners on the five-member agency.
Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) also asked Khan about the FTC's potential role in ensuring that tech companies accurately represent their content moderation policies to consumers.
In response, she discussed the challenge of “information asymmetries” between tech companies and the FTC.
“At the very least, we really need the Federal Trade Commission to be using its information collection capacities to really try and mitigate some of these information gaps. In social media, we have black-box algorithms, proprietary algorithms, that can sometimes make it difficult to know what's really going on.”
Khan, an antitrust expert and professor at Columbia Law School, is among the most prominent critics of large Silicon Valley companies. While still a law student, Khan argued in a 2017 Yale Law Journal article that antitrust policies should aim to preserve a “competitive process and market structure,” as opposed to just focusing on whether a company's practices harm consumers in the short term.
She also served as legal director at Open Markets Institute, which advocates for aggressive enforcement of anti-monopoly laws.
Khan was among the counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, which criticized big tech companies in a report issued last year.