September 22, 2023

House Republicans will question FTC’s Khan on ethics and antitrust issues

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans who say the Federal Trade Commission has been overzealous and politicized under President Joe Biden will question bureau chief Lina Khan on Thursday and bring her before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time to amid her lawsuits with major technology companies.

R-Ohio Commission Chairman Jim Jordan has criticized Khan over a range of issues in recent months, including what he says were politically motivated actions targeting Elon Musk after he took over Twitter last year, questions about whether she should have backed out of certain cases and its legal action against technology giants on antitrust issues. In April, the commission subpoenaed Khan after a panel investigation concluded that the FTC “harassed” Twitter after the Musk acquisition.

The hearing will examine “mismanagement of the FTC and its disregard for ethics and congressional oversight under Chair Lina Khan,” the court panel’s website said.

The hearing comes as the agency is embroiled in several lawsuits against tech companies and because Khan – an outspoken critic of Big Tech before becoming the agency’s head – has tried, not always successfully, to tighten government regulation of those companies.

Khan and the agency suffered a major defeat on Tuesday when a federal judge refused to block Microsoft’s impending $69 billion acquisition of video game company Activision Blizzard. The FTC had tried to scrap the deal, saying it would hurt competition.

U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley said the deal — the largest in the tech industry’s history — deserved scrutiny, but the FTC had failed to show it would cause serious harm. The FTC is now appealing the ruling.

Another judge rejected the FTC’s attempt earlier this year to prevent Meta from acquiring virtual reality fitness company Within Unlimited.

The FTC has also sued Amazon over alleged years of efforts to enroll consumers in Amazon Prime without authorization and make it difficult for them to cancel their subscriptions. In a complaint filed in federal court last month, the agency accused Amazon of using deceptive designs, known as “dark patterns,” to trick consumers into signing up for the service.

The FTC has been investigating Twitter, including this spring to uncover owner Elon Musk’s internal communications, as part of its ongoing oversight of the social media company’s privacy and cybersecurity practices.

The agency has been eyeing the company for years since Twitter agreed to a 2011 consent order alleging serious data security flaws. But the agency’s concerns intensified with the uproar that followed Musk’s takeover of the company in October and the massive layoffs that followed.

A lawyer, Khan was a well-known technology critic when she took over the agency in 2021 and her nomination was seen as a signal from the Biden administration that things would be tough for tech companies as they faced intense pressure from other regulators and attorneys general of the state.

She was a professor at Columbia University Law School and became known for her 2017 scholarly work as a Yale law student, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” That work helped lay the groundwork for a new way of looking at antitrust law beyond the impact of corporate dominance on consumer prices.

And she has Judiciary committee experience, having served as counsel to the panel’s antitrust subcommittee in 2019 and 2020. In that role, she played a key role in a sweeping bipartisan investigation into the market power of the tech giants.

The Jordan’s House Judiciary panel has also gone after the tech companies for what the Republicans say is censorship of conservatives. The commission subpoenaed the CEOs of the top five tech companies in February as part of an effort to investigate Big Tech’s content moderation.


O’Brien reported from Providence, RI

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