Senate confirms Lina Khan to become FTC commissioner

Lina Khan, candidate for Federal Trade Commission (FTC) commissioner, speaks during a confirmation hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 21, 2021.

Saul Loeb | Swimming pool | Reuters

The Senate approved President Joe Biden’s candidate for the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, the young progressive who helped conduct a reckoning among antitrust researchers and enforcers, by 69 votes to 28.

At 32, Khan becomes the youngest commissioner ever confirmed to the agency. Their affirmation also signals a bipartisan desire to impose more regulations on big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet and Apple. Khan received the endorsement of several Republicans, including Roger Wicker, R-Miss., A member of the Commerce Committee Ranking, who attended their confirmation hearing.

Still, others, such as Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, declined her approval. Lee tended to be wary of certain types of regulation despite concerns about the influence of tech companies, and previously expressed concern about Khan’s experience.

Khan became a well-known figure in cartel circles after writing “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” for the Yale Law Review in 2017 while studying at university. The paper advocated using a different framework for assessing competitive damage than the popular consumer protection standard. Essentially, this standard says that antitrust violations can be determined by the harm to consumers, which is often measured in terms of prices.

However, Khan argued that standards in the modern economy could miss out on significant competitive damage, such as: B. Predatory prices that lower consumer prices in the short term but allow a company that can afford to quickly gain market share. She also argued that both owning and selling in a marketplace, like Amazon does, could enable a company to leverage information across its ecosystem to undercut the competition.

In the years since, Khan has grown into a recognized name in the industry and a respected figure among progressives who want greater antitrust enforcement. She served on the House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Investigations against Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, and helped produce the Democratic Staff Report, which found that everyone was in monopoly power.

The report recommended legislative reforms to revive competition in digital markets, which influenced several of the recent proposals from subcommittee members over the past week. Khan specifically worked on the Google section of the Democratic Report. The company has since been sued by the Department of Justice and several states on antitrust grounds.

As commissioner, Khan will be tasked with voting on enforcement issues in the areas of competition and consumer protection. This means that it will also have to deal with the question of whether companies have effectively secured their customers ‘data or have misled them with misleading marketing or so-called dark patterns, which can influence users’ decisions online through calculated designs.

Khan could end up voting on whether to initiate antitrust proceedings against some of the tech companies she has investigated in the past. The FTC has been investigating Amazon for antitrust reasons, Bloomberg reported.

But Khan’s previous writing about the company has already questioned some lawmakers as to whether she will be allowed to vote on the case or expected to withdraw. Khan said Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, at her confirmation hearing that she had no financial conflicts to indicate a denial under ethics laws and that she would follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Khan recently joined the faculty at Columbia Law School, teaching antitrust law as an associate professor. Khan previously served as legal director for the antimonopoly group Open Markets Institute and as legal advisor to Democratic FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra, who was appointed head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

After Khan’s confirmation, Biden is left to fill another commissioner post to replace Chopra if he leaves the agency and to announce a permanent chair (Democrat Rebecca Kelly Slaughter currently serves as vice-chair). The FTC consists of five commissioners including the chairman, with no more than three from the same party.

“Congress created the FTC to ensure fair competition and to protect consumers, workers and honest companies from unfair and fraudulent practices,” Khan tweeted after the vote. “I look forward to vigorously upholding this mission and serving the American public.”

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