Policy

Khan, Biden's pick for the FTC, rides tech skepticism to warm hearing

Promising to get tough on tech companies may be good for a nomination.

Federal Trade Commission building

President Biden has nominated progressive favorite Lina Khan to the Federal Trade Commission.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tech critic and progressive favorite Lina Khan, whom President Joe Biden has nominated to the Federal Trade Commission, received a surprisingly warm bipartisan welcome as she promised tough enforcement on a sector that increasingly receives scorn from all sides.

"Given the intent of this committee — from left to right, from liberal to conservative — in taking on antitrust and privacy issues, I can't think of a more qualified person to be considered for the FTC," Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the antitrust subcommittee, said when introducing Khan.

Khan, currently a law professor at Columbia University, helped ignite the so-called "hipster antitrust" movement when she published a blockbuster 2016 paper in the Yale Law Journal while still a law student, and progressive activists have cheered her nomination.

Multiple Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee also seemed open to her nomination during a Wednesday hearing. Sen. Ted Cruz, who has voiced loud displeasure with many other Biden nominees, said he looked forward to working with Khan. Sen. Roger Wicker, the panel's top Republican, compared Khan's work on Amazon to recent writings by conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that urged strict regulation of social media companies.

Khan's reception at the hearing is just the latest event showing that many Republicans who are skeptical of Big Tech find common ground with some progressives when it comes to taking on the sector. Khan received multiple questions from Republicans about whether the FTC has any role in policing social media companies' moderation practices, which conservatives allege are biased against them.

She stopped short of saying the FTC should get involved in punishing companies for editorial decisions, which could present free speech concerns. Khan did agree, however, that the agency should gather information on social networks' practices. She added that "common carrier" regulations of the type Thomas floated might be appropriate in some markets, and she frequently asserted that the companies present both competition and privacy concerns.

"It seems like these are growing, increasingly bipartisan concerns," Khan told Cruz.

The FTC and a coalition of 48 states are currently suing Facebook for alleged anticompetitive behavior, particularly with acquisitions. Facebook says that the deals in question were designed to improve users' experience.

Not every Republican agreed with Khan. Some members, particularly Sen. Mike Lee, balked at Khan's progressive calls for new antitrust laws and broader legal thinking about what kinds of business actions could be illegal.

"It seems to me that our laws could meet the need if only enforcers brought the appropriate facts and the appropriate evidence," said Lee, the top Republican on the antitrust panel.

The 'hipster antitrust' movement

Groups such as the Open Markets Institute, where Khan was previously legal director, are looking to boost antitrust enforcement, especially in merger cases. They also want to roll back some court precedents they believe have made antitrust enforcement too narrow and expand competition law beyond a focus on the prices consumers pay to include measures such as product quality, firm conduct and effect on suppliers.

The emphasis on consumer pricing has been the key metric antitrust enforcers have used since the late 1970s, following work by conservative Robert Bork. Many tech critics, though, have said this approach, known as the consumer welfare standard, is insufficient for today's tech companies — Facebook, Google and other tech firms, after all, technically don't charge their users anything, and instead make their massive profits from advertising.

"In my academic capacity, I have critiqued the consumer welfare standard," Khan told Lee. "I've questioned whether it really is a good proxy for competitiveness especially in the context of digital markets."

Lee responded that innovation, product quality and consumer choice are also dimensions of the consumer welfare standard. He has previously said Khan, 32, is too inexperienced for the job and that "her views on antitrust enforcement are also wildly out of step with a prudent approach to the law." Lee's colleague, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, also said she had concerns about Khan's experience and background.

Lee also asked whether Khan's previous work on a House subcommittee might require recusal from cases involving Big Tech companies. Khan helped author the House Antitrust Committee's blockbuster report into Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, which concluded that the legal status quo allowed the companies to dominate much of the online economy and urged several reforms.

Khan said that she had none of the financial or personal connections that generally prompt recusal under ethics laws, and said that she would work with agency ethics officials on how to handle specific cases.

Khan spent much of her time assuring lawmakers that, if confirmed, she would urge the FTC to be a stronger, quicker enforcer of the law against tech than agencies have recently been.

"It's clear that, in some instances, the agencies have been a little slow to catch up to the underlying business realities and the empirical realities of how these markets work," Khan said. "At the very least, ensuring that the agencies are doing everything they can to keep pace is going to be important."

Democrats control the Senate and the Commerce Committee, although the panel has an equal number of members from both sides. If the committee advances her nomination, she would need approval from the full Senate to join the FTC.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

While there remains debate among economists about whether we are officially in a full-blown recession, the signs are certainly there. Like most executives right now, the outlook concerns me.

In any case, businesses aren’t waiting for the official pronouncement. They’re already bracing for impact as U.S. inflation and interest rates soar. Inflation peaked at 9.1% in June 2022 — the highest increase since November 1981 — and the Federal Reserve is targeting an interest rate of 3% by the end of this year.

Keep Reading Show less
Nancy Sansom

Nancy Sansom is the Chief Marketing Officer for Versapay, the leader in Collaborative AR. In this role, she leads marketing, demand generation, product marketing, partner marketing, events, brand, content marketing and communications. She has more than 20 years of experience running successful product and marketing organizations in high-growth software companies focused on HCM and financial technology. Prior to joining Versapay, Nancy served on the senior leadership teams at PlanSource, Benefitfocus and PeopleMatter.

Policy

SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Enterprise

These two AWS vets think they can finally solve enterprise blockchain

Vendia, founded by Tim Wagner and Shruthi Rao, wants to help companies build real-time, decentralized data applications. Its product allows enterprises to more easily share code and data across clouds, regions, companies, accounts, and technology stacks.

“We have this thesis here: Cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it in,” Wagner (right) told Protocol of his and Shruthi Rao's company.

Photo: Vendia

The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs — the idea that a database or an API could keep corporate data consistent with their business partners, be it their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics, or financial partners.

But while it was one of the most anticipated and hyped technologies in recent memory, blockchain also has been one of the most failed technologies in terms of enterprise pilots and implementations, according to Vendia CEO Tim Wagner.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Fintech

Kraken's CEO got tired of being in finance

Jesse Powell tells Protocol the bureaucratic obligations of running a financial services business contributed to his decision to step back from his role as CEO of one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken is going through a major leadership change after what has been a tough year for the crypto powerhouse, and for departing CEO Jesse Powell.

The crypto market is still struggling to recover from a major crash, although Kraken appears to have navigated the crisis better than other rivals. Despite his exchange’s apparent success, Powell found himself in the hot seat over allegations published in The New York Times that he made insensitive comments on gender and race that sparked heated conversations within the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories
Bulletins