Biden didn't campaign on getting tough against Big Tech, but his early actions are speaking louder than his words.
The White House confirmed its intentions to nominate Lina Khan to the FTC Monday, sending a clear signal that his administration will break from the Silicon Valley-friendly precedents of the Obama era. Politico first reported Biden's planned nomination of Khan, which will be subject to Senate confirmation, earlier this month.
Lina Khan is a star of the antitrust movement, insofar as a topic like regulating big business can produce one. Khan is best known for a paper she published as a law student in 2017 called "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox." The paper argues that thinking about what qualifies as monopolistic behavior hasn't kept pace with how modern businesses operate, particularly within the tech sector.
She believes that a modernized approach to antitrust must look at market forces in a big picture way instead of only examining traditional measures like price and output:
"My argument is that gauging real competition in the 21st century marketplace — especially in the case of online platforms — requires analyzing the underlying structure and dynamics of markets. Rather than pegging competition to a narrow set of outcomes, this approach would examine the competitive process itself. Animating this framework is the idea that a company’s power and the potential anticompetitive nature of that power cannot be fully understood without looking to the structure of a business and the structural role it plays in markets. Applying this idea involves, for example, assessing whether a company’s structure creates certain anticompetitive conflicts of interest; whether it can cross-leverage market advantages across distinct lines of business; and whether the structure of the market incentivizes and permits predatory conduct."
As associate law professor at Columbia, Khan also contributed to a comprehensive report from the House's antitrust subcommittee last year that set the stage for major antitrust reform that could trim back Big Tech's considerable overgrowth.
Khan isn't the only high-profile tech antitrust crusader in the Biden administration's orbit. In early March, Biden named Columbia law's Tim Wu to shape technology and competition policy at the National Economic Council. Wu came up with the term "net neutrality" and is well known as an advocate for an open internet. In 2018, Wu authored "The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age," a treatise calling out corporate consolidation in tech as a looming political and economic threat.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is leading tech-focused antitrust reform efforts through the Senate's own antitrust subcommittee, praised Khan's nomination. "We need all hands on deck as we work to take on some of the biggest monopolies in the world, and President Biden is making his commitment to competition policy clear," Klobuchar said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.
"Lina’s experience working both in Congress and at the Federal Trade Commission and as an advocate for competitive markets will be vital as we advance efforts to strengthen enforcement and protect consumers."