Biden's new wunderkind at the FTC is expected to target big tech companies

On Tuesday, 32-year-old Lina Khan was sworn in as chair of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The role is a hugely powerful one, which protects consumers from bad business practices and companies from unfair competition.

And when it comes to unfair competition, there is one sector that has been singled out by Democrats and Republicans alike: Big Tech.

Worryingly for technology giants, Ms Khan has been one of their most vocal critics.

Ms Khan was born in the UK and moved to the US as a child.

In an interview with BBC Hardtalk in January, she talked about how she started getting interested in competition law as a policy researcher after graduating.

"What became clear is there had been a systemic trend across the US... markets had come to be controlled by a very small number of companies," she said.

Gradually her focus began to shift to competition - or rather a perceived lack of competition - in Silicon Valley.

Her general criticism is that Big Tech is simply too big - that a handful of large US tech firms dominate the sector, at the expense of competition.

Some of her Democrat colleagues have even suggested that Facebook and Google could be split up.

Facebook could be broken off from Instagram, for example, or YouTube cleaved away from Google.

The comparison she uses is from the late 19th Century, when a handful of companies, or "trusts", owned key parts of the infrastructure of the US - such as the railroads.

"Anti-trust" legislation was passed to try to prevent companies holding monopoly power.

However, critics like Ms Khan say current laws aren't fit for the competition challenges of today.

"These firms essentially provide infrastructure to the digital age," she told the BBC in her previous interview.

"A small group of private executives are setting the rules of who gets to use the infrastructure and on what terms," she said.

In 2017, Ms Khan wrote a paper called "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox" for the Yale Law Journal. It argued that the traditional anti-trust focus on price was inadequate to identify potential harms done by Amazon.

This is a much-repeated criticism of the laws around antitrust. Traditionally "monopolistic" behaviour would result in price increases for consumers.

However, that doesn't often happen when it comes to Big Tech.

In fact, when it comes to Facebook and Google, their services are mostly free to the consumer, while Amazon will often have lower prices than its competitors.

Instead, the argument is much more nuanced. For example, it's argued that these companies are so big, and control so much of the internet, that they can undercut their competitors.

Current anti-trust laws don't necessarily reflect that reality, and once again this is something about which Ms Khan has talked.

"Even when services are good for consumers, they can hurt a whole set of other interests - be it workers, be it business formation, be it democracy at large." she told the BBC.

Ms Khan's appointment has been hailed by anti-trust campaigners, and in particular by Democrats.

Elizabeth Warren - who supported breaking up Big Tech in her 2020 presidential campaign - described the appointment as "tremendous news".

And in the FTC, Ms Khan now has teeth to back up her ideas. She has gone from legal activist and academic to holding perhaps the most powerful consumer protection job in the country.

The commission is already in the process of suing Facebook for "illegally maintaining its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anticompetitive conduct".

It is also investigating Amazon.

Worryingly for Big Tech too, a number of bipartisan bills have also been put forward in Congress to rein in the power of Big Tech. That there are Democrats and Republicans who support antitrust action makes her position even more powerful.

Ms Khan's appointment is the clearest sign yet that President Biden means business when it comes to clipping the wings of companies like Amazon and Apple.

These companies, though, have big pockets and good lawyers.

Ms Khan may want to take the fight to Big Tech, but she should expect a long, drawn-out legal battle if she is to get her way.

The Trump administration allow corporations to get bigger and bigger as they all broke into streaming services, Amazon purchased MGM studios. Just four of the mega giants - Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Disney and all their holdings. ... ney_assets

There is bi-partisan appeal, but large corporations hire the best and brightest law firms, can prolong cases for years and there are a lot of Trump judges that could see FTC lawsuits differently.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Re: Biden's new wunderkind at the FTC is expected to target big tech companies

Don't blame Trump for all this. Big-time tech mergers were happening in Bill Clinton's Presidency (WorldCom, for example). Same for when Verisign bought Thawte, their competitor started by Mark "Mr. Ubuntu" Shuttleworth. Information conglomerates have been forming ever since, during both the Bush-43 and Obama Presidencies as well. I'm in the IT business, and I saw this happen. Disney, Comcast, etc. have been buying up other companies for many years now. Dell buying EMC, that happened during Obama's term (2016). And Microsoft, they've been swallowing up company after company trying to own every market since the late 1980's and are continuing to this day.
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Re: Biden's new wunderkind at the FTC is expected to target big tech companies

Now, as for something actually happening against the wishes of the Big Tech bosses...don't count on it. Remember that they control the messaging now, the "narrative". The Democrats will make plenty of noise, much like politicians made all sorts of hay about "term limits" years back...but they won't actually do anything. They know that if they do, then:

A.) those politicians will probably get Primaried by suddenly-well-funded opponents,
B.) they'll get pilloried in the press, both online and traditional, and
C.) the campaign contributions will come to a screeching halt.

Let's not pretend that this isn't the case. The Dems might do something symbolic, but it will be only symbolic at best. Nothing with actual teeth.

Wanna change that? Vote in your Primary and encourage others to do so.
"San Francisco Liberal With A Gun" (reloading instruction) (podcast)
A true Liberal must back the Second Amendment 100%!

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