Who is Lina Khan? What Does Her Appointment Mean for India?

·4 min read

Antitrust crusader Lina Khan has been named the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by US President Joe Biden.

As one of the biggest critics of big techs, Lina Khan’s ascension to the role of Chairman of the FTC means tougher competition and antitrust measures will define the Biden administration’s stance as far as antitrust, administration and commercial laws are concerned.

Khan has been vocal about rewriting rules for enforcement of antitrust laws. “It is a tremendous honour to have been selected by President Biden to lead the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),” she said after her swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday.

Also Read: YouTube wants FTC to clarify kids' privacy law

Who is Lina Khan?

Khan is a Pakistani-American academic who was an associate professor of law at Columbia Law School, where she taught antitrust law, infrastructure industries law, and the antimonopoly tradition.

Her academic work examines the limits of the current paradigm in antitrust law, assessing how its welfare-based framework fails to capture empirical realities and betrays the Republican origins of antitrust. "Several of my projects have focused on how dominant digital-era firms freshly reveal these shortcomings and demand an approach to antimonopoly that is animated by questions of power, distribution, and democracy," Khan wrote in a blog post.

Prior to joining Columbia, she also served as counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, where she helped lead the Subcommittee’s investigation of digital markets and the publication of its final report.

The report found that Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon had “engaged in anti-competitive behaviour”, and suggested that Congress needed to pass new antitrust legislation to curb this trend.

Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox

Khan, rose to prominence with a 2017 article “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” which was published in the Yale Law Journal while she was a law student at Yale.

In the study, she mapped out how in addition to being a retailer, Amazon is now a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading host of cloud server space.

Through this strategy, the company has positioned itself at the center of e-commerce and now serves as essential infrastructure for a host of other businesses that depend upon it, her study reveals.

The study also talks about facets of Amazon’s dominance. Its business strategy which illuminates anti-competitive aspects of Amazon’s structure and conduct, and underscores deficiencies in current doctrine.

The research closes by considering two potential regimes for addressing Amazon’s power: restoring traditional antitrust and competition policy principles or applying common carrier obligations and duties.

The piece became hugely influential in antitrust circles and among policymakers.

What Her Appointment Means for India?

India in 2019 introduced a new rule prohibiting e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, etc, from selling their own goods on the platform. The idea is you can either run the marketplace, or sell your goods on the marketplace, but not both.

Khan had endorsed this principle behind this move on 19 January 2019, and tweeted: “The rule responds to a problem that merchants selling on Amazon routinely face: Amazon will spot their best-selling products and then produce an Amazon-branded version, demoting them in search listings and eating their sales…”

Sharat Chandra, Blockchain and Emerging Tech Evangelist told The Quint, "In the light of recent legal quagmire faced by the Amazon and Walmart owned Flipkart, Lina’s strong views on antitrust enforcement will definitely have a bearing on these e-commerce giants. The deep-discounting methods and predatory pricing strategies adopted by these e-commerce players has put smaller retailers out of business".

"The Competition Council of India and High Courts will definitely be closely watching the developments in this regard. A lot will depend upon Lina Khan’s ability to get members of the committee on board to enforce regulations," Chandra added.

Also Read: Facebook’s Fine for Data Mishap is FTC’s Biggest Ever in Tech

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