Today the senate overwhelmingly confirmed tech critic and 32-year-old Columbia professor Lina Khan to join the Federal Trade Commission by a vote of 69-28. They can agree on reforming big tech; given their track record of bitching and moaning and proposing terribly uninformed and/or nefarious proposals to do it themselves, it’s nice to see them band together to do the bare minimum.
Khan, a Biden appointee, is a promising problem-solver who’s floated specific proposals to update antitrust law in order to give Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook’s competitors a fighting chance. In a well-known paper, she’s proposed broadening traditional antitrust policy and applying carrier rules to regulate Amazon. She’s also proposed reigning in tech companies by revisiting structural separations that would prevent Apple (eg) from both controlling the market and competing with businesses that depend on the App Store. As counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, Khan contributed to an investigation into the tech oligopolies’ business practices.
Biden might be building a cross-departmental academic A-team of big tech critics. In March, he appointed Columbia professor Tim Wu, author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age,” as a presidential advisor on technology and competition.
This makes a 3-2 majority Democratic commission, though Democratic commissioner Rohit Chopra might relocate to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a Biden-appointed head. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, it could take months to fill his seat. Additionally, Biden has yet to nominate an FTC head as well as the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general who would work with the FTC to enforce penalties against tech companies.
The FTC is already looking into tech companies’ acquisitions of small companies which hadn’t previously been reported to regulators. It has also launched a joint investigation with New York and California attorneys general into Amazon, Bloomberg reported last year. Over an up to seven-year term, Khan will be empowered to help craft rules, enforce regulations, and launch investigations.
In another positive change, the FTC will no longer be harangued to enforce a personal vendetta against social media companies for perceived censorship.