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An FTC nominee shrugged on tech antitrust. Now he needs votes.

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! The Senate is a place where people only want to hear about the one or two things they care about. I’m bringing you a cautionary tale about the FTC nominee who ignored advice to raise Republican concerns, plus Europe’s data portability proposal, the SEC looking into Elon Musk’s brother and the many, many tech policy stories about Ukraine.

When will the FTC get going?

The White House nominated Alvaro Bedoya to serve on the Federal Trade Commission way back in September — and yet nearly six months later, he’s still far from confirmation. Why? One reason is Bedoya apparently ignored advice that he should court Republicans with tough talk on Big Tech antitrust.

Bedoya, a privacy scholar, said little about antitrust in his confirmation hearing last November, focusing instead on his longtime criticism of tech companies’ data practices.

  • Meanwhile, Bedoya spent months without any apparent support from Republican senators.
  • Now his nomination seems to be in limbo while Democrats, who barely control a 50–50 Senate, await the upcoming return of Sen. Ben Ray Luján, who recently had a stroke.
  • The Commerce Committee said Thursday it would seek to move Bedoya’s nomination to the full Senate next week, where he would also require extra floor time and a tiebreaker vote from Vice President Kamala Harris if he indeed has no GOP support.

The headache of getting Bedoya onto the FTC is a sharp contrast to the broad bipartisan support FTC chair Lina Khan received.

  • The antitrust crusader received 21 Republican votes in her swift confirmation.
  • Justice Department antitrust section chief Jonathan Kanter similarly sailed through the process.

Outside advisers repeatedly counseled Bedoya to deliver a similar message to Khan and Kanter, according to multiple people familiar with the situation, but he appears to have disregarded the advice, perhaps in part because nominees are bombarded with pointers.

Bedoya could have attracted bipartisan support and helped overcome concerns about his sharp tweets about conservatives if he’d gone harder, according to sources close to Senate Republicans.

  • A former Senate GOP staffer said the ideal message was: “I want to work together on fucking up Google and Facebook.”

Bedoya also had to contend with the fact that Robert Raben, a former Justice Department official who lobbied for Google, was one of the people guiding him through the process (even if he wasn’t the official “sherpa”).

  • “It was a huge strategic mistake on the part of the White House to have Bedoya’s sherpa be a Big Tech lobbyist,” said Kyle Plotkin, former chief of staff to Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.
  • To make matters worse, after the nomination hearing, Raben’s part in the prep popped up on Tucker Carlson’s show, which is influential with the conservative grassroots.
  • For what it’s worth, the FTC is in the midst of contemplating online privacy rules, Amazon competition investigations and probing the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard deal, but the Justice Department is currently handling Google competition matters.

The White House told me that Biden nominated Bedoya “because of his extensive research and advocacy experience, his long public track record holding Big Tech companies to account, and his commitment to privacy for all.”

  • “We look forward to his swift confirmation by the Senate,” the administration said, bucking whispers that Biden might pull Bedoya’s nomination.

Of course, Bedoya faces other hurdles to broad Republican support.

  • He had retweeted a message comparing the 2016 Republican National Convention to a white supremacist rally, for instance.
  • His expertise also means he would be instrumental to starting an FTC privacy rule-making that could subject every major business to new regulations in a way few Republicans would like.
  • GOP senators, who hardly even asked Bedoya about antitrust, also seem content to keep regulators tied up: They also held up the confirmation of Gigi Sohn to the FCC.

But Bedoya, who did call "antitrust enforcement on Big Tech a top priority" in paperwork, may also be suffering for Khan’s successes.

  • When Biden put Khan forward, he said only that he wanted her to serve on the FTC. Only after she was confirmed with all that bipartisan support did he designate her as the chair.
  • Republicans have since watched in shock as she uses her power to set a progressive FTC agenda.
  • “He’s actually being plagued by a larger issue,” said Rachel Bovard, a former Senate Republican staffer, “which is the bait-and-switch on Lina Khan.”

Bovard, who’s now senior director of Policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, said the whole dynamic is “such an inside-the-Beltway thing.” But ultimately, to the people who decide whether the U.S. has a fully functioning tech enforcement/regulator agency, “it does matter.”

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian government and banking websites suffered DDoS attacks ahead of Russia’s invasion. There was a “wiper” attack too. They followed similar attacks in recent weeks that the U.S. formally attributed to Russia. There were also unverified claims that Kremlin and other Russian websites were down, although other experts suggested the idea may have been a misinterpretation amid the chaos.

Crypto donations are flooding into the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence from all over the world, but the ministry is cautioning it can’t legally use the payment systems involved in actually getting bitcoin (or use PayPal, for that matter).

The war will be TikTok-ed: Livestreams from Ukraine appear to be showing Russia’s invasion in real time for all the world to see. Some of them, though, are clearly fake — and are attracting lots of viewers.

Here’s what it means when everyone talks about SWIFT and Russia, and why Western countries are split about what’s been called the “nuclear option” of sanctions.

The U.S. will restrict exports of sensitive technology to Russia as part of its sanctions package. The moves target the defense, aviation and maritime industries, according to the White House, and also seeks to tackle “sensitive U.S. technologies produced in foreign countries using U.S.-origin” tech. Think semiconductors, navigation and more.


Tech and game workers are joining unions because they are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to build their careers at companies that reflect their values. They want to put an end to harassment, discrimination and abuse. Respecting workers means respecting their right to organize.

Learn more

In Washington

Biden will nominate Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the Supreme Court vacancy opened by Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement. While Jackson hasn’t worked much on tech cases, several key issues are bound to come before the high court during her tenure if she’s confirmed.

The SEC is probing whether Tesla stock sales by Elon Musk's brother violated insider trading rules, according to The Wall Street Journal. Kimbal Musk, who is on Tesla’s board, sold 88,500 shares the day before Elon Musk posted a Twitter poll about selling 10% of his stake in the company.

The Justice Department is signaling its concerns about the antitrust implications of data and suppliers by suing to block an acquisition by UnitedHealth Group. The insurer is hoping to buy a firm called Change that works with most rival insurers to help submit, evaluate and process claims.

DOJ also ended its controversial “China Initiative.” The program, which aimed to combat economic espionage by China, faced accusations it was ineffective and discriminatory. Instead, the DOJ replaced it with a broader initiative aimed at China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and others.

Two Democratic senators want TikTok to hand over information on eating-disorder content. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tammy Baldwin asked a variety of questions in a letter, including about the app’s planned changes to its recommendation algorithms.

In the media, culture and metaverse

Tech giants are rolling out safety features for users in Ukraine, including Twitter's tips on deleting accounts entirely and Meta’s one-click tool to lock accounts.

DuckDuckGo is gaining ground with conservative and conspiracy influencers who say Google censors them, according to The New York Times. The report found that some conspiracy-related searches on DuckDuckGo, which is a favorite of privacy-focused web searchers, pointed users to less reliable sources than they would get on Google.

Crisis Text Line never ran its controversial data-sharing arrangement by its data advisory board, according to a report in Forbes. The nonprofit recently stopped sharing data with its for-profit arm on the suicidal and desperate people who used its service.

In data

200,000: That’s the estimated number of tech workers in Ukraine. WhatsApp, PayPal, SparkMail and People.ai were founded or co-founded by Ukrainians, and companies like Grammarly have major offices in Kyiv.


Tech and game workers are joining unions because they are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to build their careers at companies that reflect their values. They want to put an end to harassment, discrimination and abuse. Respecting workers means respecting their right to organize.

Learn more

How to do better

It’s always wise to double-check wild claims and opt for reliable sources during volatile situations. That’s why the folks at the journalism-focused Poynter Institute have put out this guide to investigating photos and videos like a news pro. Step one: Open up that metadata.

Thanks for reading — see you Monday!

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