The Senate confirmed Big Tech critic and prominent antitrust scholar Lina Khan as FTC Commissioner Tuesday. In a strong and surprising signal that the tech industry is overdue for some intense regulatory scrutiny, Biden elevated the newly-confirmed Khan to chair the agency the same day.
Khan was confirmed in a 69-28 vote, with Republicans joining Democrats in a rare show of bipartisan support for Khan’s ideas on reining in tech’s most powerful companies. As FTC chair, Khan will replace Rebecca Kelly Slaughter who moved into the role of acting chairwoman in January.
“It is a tremendous honor to have been selected by President Biden to lead the Federal Trade Commission,” Chair Khan said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to protect the public from corporate abuse.”
An associate law professor at Columbia, Khan’s star rose with the publication of a landmark paper examining how the government’s outdated ways of identifying monopolies have failed to keep up with modern business realities, particularly in tech. In Khan’s view, that regulatory failure has allowed the biggest tech companies to consolidate unprecedented wealth and power, in turn making it even more difficult to regulate them.
President Biden nominated Khan back in March, sending an early message that Biden would not extend the warm relationship Big Tech companies enjoyed with the White House under former President Obama.
Khan’s confirmation is a sign that the agency will be prioritizing tech antitrust concerns, a priority that will run parallel to Congressional efforts to bolster the FTC’s enforcement powers. The FTC famously imposed a $5 billion fine on Facebook for privacy violations in 2019, but the record-setting fine was only a glancing blow for a company already worth more than $500 billion.
Last week, Congress revealed a long-anticipated package of bipartisan bills that, if passed, would overhaul tech’s biggest businesses and redraw the industry’s rules for years to come.
A previous bill proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar would set aside a pool of money that the FTC could use to create a new division for market and merger research, one step toward modernizing antitrust enforcement to keep up with relentless growth from tech’s most powerful giants.