Amazon really doesn’t like the FTC’s new chair

Lina Khan during a Senate meeting in April 2021.
Lina Khan during a Senate meeting in April 2021.

  • Amazon is not a fan of Lina Khan, a vocal big tech critic who now leads the FTC.
  • The company filed a request to have her removed from any enforcement decisions involving Amazon.
  • In 2017, Khan wrote a widely-read paper about how Amazon has escaped antitrust scrutiny.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon really doesn’t like the Federal Trade Commission’s new leader.

The company on Wednesday filed a 25-page request to the FTC to have Lina Khan removed from any enforcement decision involving Amazon. That would include the FTC’s current review of Amazon’s $8.45 billion acquisition of MGM, as well as an antitrust investigation into the company that is already in process.

Amazon says there’s a conflict of interest because Khan has been publicly critical of large tech companies, especially Amazon, in the past.

“Given her long track record of detailed pronouncements about Amazon, and her repeated proclamations that Amazon has violated the antitrust laws, a reasonable observer would conclude that she no longer can consider the company’s antitrust defenses with an open mind,” Amazon said in the filing, which was published by Axios and also reported by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

An FTC spokesperson declined to comment, saying petitions and letters to the FTC are not public.

Khan gained notoriety in the tech and antitrust law worlds after she wrote a paper in 2017 titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” She said the current antitrust framework is outdated, which enabled the company to evade antitrust scrutiny, despite growing rapidly and using predatory pricing.

She also made the argument in the paper for what it will look like if Amazon were to be broken up.

Amazon also said Khan is biased because she helped the House investigate Amazon and other big tech firms over online competition. After lawmakers conducted the months-long probe, they released a report calling tech companies “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”

President Joe Biden appointed the 32-year-old Big Tech critic to the post earlier this month, and antitrust reformers rejoiced that a vocal anti-monopoly advocate would be helming the agency.

Many dubbed Khan “Big Tech’s biggest nightmare” as the industry, which long operated with little regulatory oversight, may soon be put in its place

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Meet the millennial dubbed the leader of ‘hipster antitrust’ who got appointed to police Big Tech largely off just one scholarly paper inspired by a trip to the grocery store

now-FTC chair lina khan speaks during a meeting in April
Lina Khan speaks during an April Senate meeting.

  • FTC chair Lina Khan is a graduate of Yale Law School and the author of “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.”
  • Her paper and other government work have cemented her as a vocal critic of Big Tech.
  • Khan helped the House investigate Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook over online competition.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Lina Khan has been one of Big Tech’s biggest critics – and she just took the reins of the government agency empowered to enforce antitrust laws against them.

At 32-years-old, Khan is the youngest person to be appointed as chair of the Federal Trade Commission. She was confirmed to the post on June 15 as one of the agency’s five commissioners.

Khan has a rare background for someone assuming such an influential role in US government: an extensive knowledge of tech companies and how complex antitrust laws could apply to them. Some pro-Big Tech players already appear concerned, Vox reported, as the industry has long operated without strict regulation.

Khan attended Yale Law School and has been critical of Amazon

FTC chair Lina Khan in her home
Lina Khan in her home in 2017, the year she published her paper entitled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.”

Khan was born in the UK and moved to the US when she was 11. She initially wanted to be a journalist but delved into examining corporate monopolies and antitrust laws after graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts. Khan became a policy researcher at an antitrust think tank in Washington in 2011.

She told the BBC in January that she realized “markets had come to be controlled by a very small number of companies” and said that trend was “systemic” in the US. Khan was particularly inspired by a trip to the grocery store in 2013 when she realized the candy selection was largely owned by just two or three confectioners.

“I think there is a very coherent story to be told about how market power is harming us as a whole in all these bizarre ways that are not readily apparent,” she told Time in 2019.

She later decided to study law at Yale Law School. In 2017, during her time as a student there, Khan published a paper called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” drawing attention to the current “unequipped” and unnuanced antitrust framework. She wrote that it enabled the tech giant to evade antitrust scrutiny.

She specifically said Amazon has focused on growing rapidly and using predatory pricing, which has helped it evade government scrutiny since the consumer stays unharmed.

Current US antitrust law stipulates that companies should be scrutinized when their bloated market power directly harms consumers, like if prices increase for them. But Khan instead says there are other, less obvious negative side effects that result from a small number of monopolies holding so much dominance – even if the consumer goes unharmed – like firms harnessing their market power to squeeze out smaller competitors.

The paper was widely publicized and cemented Khan as “Amazon’s antitrust antagonist,” as The New York Times wrote in late 2018. Then-Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch criticized Khan’s paper and dubbed her the leader of the “hipster antitrust” movement.

She’s become a vocal critic at large of big players in the tech world and has advocated for stronger anticompetitive regulation, an issue that has bipartisan support.

Republicans and Democrats agree that the tech industry should abide by a set of rules, though each party has its own motivations to strengthen regulation.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, have supported her ideology, and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota was one of the 21 Republicans that backed her FTC confirmation, NBC reported.

She’s already been helping the US crackdown on Big Tech

Lina Khan during a Senate meeting in April 2021.
Lina Khan during a Senate meeting in April 2021.

Khan was counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, commercial, and administrative law while the group was investigating Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon over their role in online market competition. Khan sat behind lawmakers as they questioned the CEOs of the Big Four in a high-profile late July 2020 hearing.

House lawmakers released a report shortly after their months-long probe was complete calling tech companies “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”

She also was a legal adviser to now-fellow FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra.

Khan became an associate professor of Law at Columbia in late 2020. Her faculty page now reads that she is “currently on leave serving in the federal government.”

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