Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

Biden's surprise pick for FTC chair, a leading tech critic, is already rocking boats

By naming tech critic Lina Khan to chair the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday, the White House made clear it is dead serious about antitrust enforcement and other measures to rein in Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

The intrigue: By naming Khan FTC chair just hours after the Senate confirmed her appointment as one of five commissioners at the agency, the White House took both the industry and many D.C. insiders by surprise.


Why it matters: Specific moves to clip the wings of tech giants over issues like monopolistic behavior and privacy practices are more likely to come from leadership at the FTC and the Department of Justice than from Congress.

  • The FTC is widely seen as the likeliest leading edge of any major regulatory moves.
  • Putting a firebrand like Khan in the FTC's driver seat will rally tech's opponents and provoke some late-night counter-strategy sessions in Silicon Valley offices.

Khan, 32, is a Columbia Law professor known for her argument that Amazon's retail business should be separated from its selling platform and for advocating broad updates of antitrust law to deal with digital-age problems.

What they're saying:

  • "The difference between being a mere commissioner and being chair is the difference between going to the moon and going to Mars," said William Kovacic, former FTC chairman. "Mars is a much bigger deal."
  • Khan has "immense legal prowess" and is "an out of the box thinker...who can take on the biggest companies the world has ever known," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) chair of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, told Axios. She noted that Khan will be overseeing the FTC's open case on Facebook's acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Khan's appointment provides "a huge opportunity to make big, structural change by reviving antitrust enforcement and fighting monopolies that threaten our economy, our society, and our democracy."
  • "Congress created the FTC to safeguard fair competition and protect consumers, workers, and honest businesses from unfair & deceptive practices," Khan tweeted Tuesday. "I look forward to upholding this mission with vigor and serving the American public."

The other side: "In a time of increased global competition, antitrust populism will cause lasting self-inflicted damage that benefits foreign, less meritorious rivals," said Aurelien Portuese, director of antitrust and innovation policy at tech-funded think tank the Information and Technology Innovation Foundation.

Rebecca Slaughter, who had been acting FTC chairwoman, will remain at the agency as a Democratic commissioner.

  • Biden has one more Democratic commissioner to name to the agency, as soon as current Democratic commissioner Rohit Chopra receives Senate confirmation to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • "I am grateful to the dedicated staff of the Commission whose steady work during my tenure as Acting Chairwoman has resulted in numerous unanimous, bipartisan agreements, and aided millions of Americans during an unprecedented global pandemic," Slaughter told Axios in a statement.
  • Slaughter was only informed that the White House would be naming Khan as chair on Tuesday, a source familiar with the matter told Axios.

Between the lines: Presidents can elevate FTC commissioners to be chair at any time. But when presidents have nominated new FTC commissioners to serve as chair, they've usually made their intentions clear in advance.

  • It's an unusual move for the White House, Kovacic said: "If you walk back through the modern or earlier history of the FTC, I can't remember an instance where the White House has named an individual to be a commissioner, then once that person was confirmed by the Senate, designated that person to be the chair."
  • "The confirmation proceeding [would have probably been] more contentious, if Khan was identified as the prospective chair," he added.

The bottom line: If Khan pursues a wide-ranging regulatory agenda, as she is expected to, and quickly gets another Democratic commissioner confirmed, the FTC can move to pursue aggressive cases and enforcement, especially with the support of Congress.

4 ffp

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Keep reading... Show less

Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

Keep reading... Show less

What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories