Biden names Big Tech critic Lina Khan to chair Federal Trade Commission

Appointment comes with industry under intense pressure from Congress and regulators

FILE - In this April 21, 2021, file photo, Lina Khan, nominee for Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), speaks during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Khan was sworn in as FTC chair Tuesday, June 15, just hours after the Senate confirmed her nomination as a commissioner.  (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP, File)

US President Joe Biden has named Lina Khan, an energetic critic of big tech, as a top federal regulator.

This comes at a time when the industry is under intense pressure from Congress and regulators.

Ms Khan, 32, was appointed chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday, in an unexpected move that puts one of the most prominent advocates of aggressive antitrust enforcement against US technology companies in charge of the agency.

Born in London to Pakistani parents, Ms Khan emigrated to the US when she was 11, The New York Times reported.

Her elevation to chairwoman marks a rapid rise to the top of US antitrust enforcement.

Currently a Columbia Law School professor, Ms Khan studied law at Yale University, where in 2017, she burst on to the antitrust scene with her scholarly work, Amazon's Antitrust Paradox.

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The journal article casts the online retail company as a harmful monopoly and argues that it employs practices that should provoke a rethink of antitrust enforcement in the US.

She has also helped lay the foundation for a new way of looking at antitrust law beyond the impact of big company market dominance on consumer prices.

As counsel to a House Judiciary antitrust panel in 2019 and 2020, she played a key role in a sweeping bipartisan investigation of the market power of the tech companies.

Ms Khan now is in charge of one of two agencies responsible for policing competition in the US, the other being the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

She is believed to be the youngest chair in the history of the commission.

Ms Khan said she looked forward “to working with my colleagues to protect the public from corporate abuse".

Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator who has called for tech industry break-ups, said in a statement that Ms Khan would be a “fearless champion” for consumers.

“Giant tech companies deserve the growing scrutiny they are facing and consolidation is choking off competition across American industries,” Ms Warren 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.”

As a presidential candidate, Mr Biden said dismantling the big tech companies should be considered.

He also has said he wants to see social media companies' long-held legal protections for speech on their platforms quickly limited.

The tech industry, once lionised by politicians and presidents as an engine of innovation and jobs, has seen its political fortunes eroded in recent years, with calls rising to break up the large Silicon Valley companies.

Members of Congress from both parties champion stronger oversight of the tech industry, arguing that its market power is out of control, crushing smaller competitors and endangering consumer privacy.

They say the companies hide behind a legal shield to allow false information to flourish on their social media networks or to entrench bias.

Still, Ms Khan has her detractors. When she was first mentioned as a possible candidate for the commission, Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah, called her views on antitrust “wildly out of step with a prudent approach to the law".

Tech-funded advocacy organisations were quick to criticise Ms Khan’s confirmation. NetChoice, whose members include Amazon and other tech companies, has accused her of “antitrust activism” that it said will politicise the commission and harm America’s economic exceptionalism.