Prominent tech industry critic and antitrust expert Lina Khan was sworn in Tuesday as head of the Federal Trade Commission.
President Joe Biden named Khan chairwoman just hours after the Senate voted 69-28 to approve her nomination to the agency.
The 32-year-old Khan, a law professor, is among the most prominent proponents of aggressive antitrust enforcement. She was among the counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, which criticized large tech companies in a report issued last year. She also served as legal director at Open Markets Institute, which advocates for aggressive enforcement of anti-monopoly laws.
At her confirmation hearing in April, she expressed concerns to lawmakers about behavioral-targeting techniques. “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.”
Khan first became widely known in antitrust circles in 2017, when she authored the Yale Law Journal article “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” which argued that antitrust policies should aim to preserve a “competitive process and market structure,” as opposed to focusing solely on whether a company's practices harm consumers in the short term.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has advocated breaking up the largest tech companies, cheered news of Khan's appointment.
“Lina brings deep knowledge and expertise to this role and will be a fearless champion for consumers,” Warren tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “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.”
Advocacy groups including Public Citizen and Public Knowledge also expressed support.
“This is a big win for consumers and the public interest,” Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at Public Knowledge, stated Tuesday. “The strong bipartisan vote in her favor is both confirmation of her impeccable credentials and of the bipartisan interest in holding Big Tech accountable.”
The FTC is currently suing Facebook for allegedly violating antitrust law by acquiring potential competitors, including Instagram and WhatsApp.
“After identifying two significant competitive threats to its dominant position -- Instagram and WhatsApp -- Facebook moved to squelch those threats by buying the companies, reflecting CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s view, expressed in a 2008 email, that 'it is better to buy than compete,'” the agency alleged in its complaint against Facebook, filed last December.
At least some of the allegations in that complaint appear to be drawn from the House majority's antitrust report.