Lina Khan, a progressive tech critic of Pakistani descent, was sworn in as chair of the Federal Trade Commission, an independent agency of the United States government, on Tuesday, June 15.
In a tweet, she said, “Congress created the FTC to safeguard fair competition and protect consumers, workers, and honest businesses from unfair & deceptive practices,” Khan tweeted following the vote. “I look forward to upholding this mission with vigor and serving the American public.”
I’m so grateful to the Senate for my confirmation. Congress created the FTC to safeguard fair competition and protect consumers, workers, and honest businesses from unfair & deceptive practices. I look forward to upholding this mission with vigor and serving the American public.
— Lina Khan (@linakhanFTC) June 15, 2021
According to their website, the FTC is a “bipartisan federal agency with a unique dual mission to protect consumers and promote competition.” Its principal mission is the enforcement of civil US antitrust law.
At the age of 32, Lina Khan will be the youngest commissioner ever confirmed to the agency, let alone lead it. The US Senate approved her nomination in a 69-28 vote.
She will have the ability to steer the agency’s direction to a greater extent than she would as a commissioner. The young academic who has already helped launch a reckoning amongst antitrust scholars and enforcers.
Her appointment is seen as a step towards imposing more regulations on Big Tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, and Apple. She even received the support of several Republicans, including Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
She first gained notoriety for writing “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” for the Yale Law Review in 2017 while still studying at the university. In the paper, she made a case for using a different framework for evaluating competitive harm than the popular consumer welfare standard.
The paper argued that the standard could not detect significant competitive harm in the modern economy, such as predatory pricing that lowers consumer prices in the short term but allows a company that can afford it to gain market share quickly.
It further added that owning and selling on a marketplace, as Amazon does, could allow businesses to exploit information across their ecosystem to undercut the competition.
As chair, she will be able to vote on enforcement matters in competition and consumer protection. This means she will judge whether companies have effectively secured their customers’ data or misled them with deceptive marketing or so-called dark patterns that can through calculated designs influence users’ choices online.
She could very well be at the forefront of the modern-day struggle of governments against big tech, deciding just how much authority the state can have over their operational methods.