Amazon critic Lina Khan named chair of FTC

The Columbia Law Professor has long criticized Amazon’s vast control of commerce online.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

The US Senate confirmed Columbia Law professor Lina Khan as an FTC commissioner in a 69 to 28 vote on Tuesday before she was named chair of the body by President Joe Biden. 

Khan has been a fierce critic of Amazon and other tech giants dominating multiple markets. She will now take over an agency investigating or suing multiple major tech companies, including Facebook, Apple and Google. 

Khan said on Twitter that the FTC was created "to safeguard fair competition and protect consumers, workers, and honest businesses from unfair and deceptive practices." 

In March, she was nominated by Biden after a career in academia and government, previously serving as a counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law and legal advisor to the office of FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren said in a statement that Khan "brings deep knowledge and expertise to this role and will be a fearless champion for consumers."

"Giant tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon deserve the growing scrutiny they are facing, and consolidation is choking off competition across American industries," Warren added. "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."

The 32-year-old Yale graduate has spent years writing about how antitrust law needs to be applied in the tech industry. As a team member who conducted the House Judiciary subcommittee on an antitrust investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, she helped put together the report that said each is a monopoly. According to CNBC, Khan was personally involved in the report section that focused on Google, which is facing multiple antitrust lawsuits.  

In an article for Yale Law Journal, she argued that Amazon's retail business should be separated from the platform it has built for third-party sellers. The move would stop Amazon from "using insights from its role as a third-party host to benefit its retail business, as it reportedly does now," Khan wrote

"This form of a prophylactic ban has a long history in banking law. A core principle of banking law is the separation of banking and commerce," Khan said. 

"Like bank holding companies, Amazon -- along with a few other dominant platforms -- now play a crucial role in intermediating swaths of economic activity. As a result, Amazon itself effectively controls the infrastructure of the internet economy. This level of concentrated control creates hazards analogous to those recognized in banking law. In light of this control, the conflicts of interest created through Amazon's expansion into distinct lines of business are especially troubling."

Khan will now become the youngest person to lead the commission, which has been led by acting chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter since Biden took office. Biden has one more seat to fill on the five-person commission. 

"We need all hands on deck as we take on some of the biggest monopolies in the world," US Senator Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. "Lina Khan's deep understanding of competition policy will be vital as we strengthen antitrust enforcement, and I look forward to working with her at the FTC as we advance efforts to protect consumers." 

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