Wednesday 16 June 2021 11:46 am

Lina Khan: How America’s answer to Margrethe Vestager plans to take on Big Tech

Since taking over as European Commissioner for Competition in 2014, Margrethe Vestager has made her mission clear: to crack down on the ballooning power of Big Tech.

The ruthless competition czar has undoubtedly delivered on those ambitions, handing down high-profile fines running into the tens of billions of euros against the likes of Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google.

But now the US looks set to gain its own Big Tech nemesis after President Joe Biden tapped high-profile antitrust researcher Lina Khan as the new head of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Khan the campaigner

Lina Khan was this morning sworn in as the new chair of the FTC — the US regulator charged with enforcing competition law.

It came hours after she was confirmed by the US Senate for a seat on the five-year commission, and her term in charge will run until September 2024.

Khan, an associate law professor at Columbia, is one of the most high-profile US scholars to speak out against the might of Silicon Valley tech giants.

She shot to fame in 2017 after writing a highly-regarded article titled Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox for the Yale Law Journal. 

It argued that the traditional attitude towards competition — that lower prices are good for consumers — was outdated and failed to justify the harms done by Amazon.

Khan was then tapped by the House Judiciary Committee to help write a huge report on alleged abuse of market power by the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

The 449-page report, published last year, tore into Big Tech and called for new laws to curb their power.

‘Big structural change’

The decision to appoint Khan is a clear indicator of Biden’s aggressive approach towards the denizens of Silicon Valley.

Advocacy group Public Citizen today welcomed the decision, saying: “We applaud President Biden and the Senate for recognising the urgent need to address runaway corporate power.”

The US has opened a number of investigations and lawsuits targeting Big Tech, including a major legal battle between the Justice Department and Google. The FTC has sued Facebook and is investigating Amazon.

It’s not Biden’s first high-profile appointment either. He recently appointed fellow progressive and Big Tech critic Tim Wu to a key White House advisory role on the National Economic Council.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted that the administration’s selection of Khan was “tremendous news.”

“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,” she added.

But the appointment will go down less well among the tech titans, who are now facing the prospect of a regulatory crackdown in their home countries, as well as in the UK and Europe.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), whose board includes representatives from tech companies, issued a statement warning that a “populist approach to antitrust” would “cause lasting self-inflicted damage that benefits foreign, less meritorious rivals”.