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FTC is ‘just getting started’ as it takes on Amazon, Meta and more, Chair Lina Khan says

Written by on May 5, 2024

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — In the nearly three years since President Joe Biden appointed Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency has taken on some of America’s largest corporations, filing lawsuits or taking other actions to challenge Big Tech, Big Pharma and Big Business.

“The FTC has been squarely focused on making sure we’re using all of our tools and authorities to protect the American people from illegal business practices,” Khan told ABC News “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl in an interview that aired Sunday.

Tasked with enforcing the nation’s antitrust laws and protecting consumers from unfair or deceptive business practices, the FTC under Khan has homed in on industry giants like Amazon, Meta and biotechnology company Amgen. But not every pursuit has been successful — an attempt to block Meta from acquiring a virtual reality startup failed, for example — and Khan told Karl that she believes there’s still much more to do.

“In many ways it feels like our work is just getting started,” she said, telling Karl that it “would be an honor” to be nominated for another commissioner term after her current term expires on Sept. 24.

A Yale Law School graduate and former staffer on the House Judiciary Committee, Khan is the first person of South Asian descent to lead the agency and, at 35, is also the youngest FTC chair.

The commission has taken a more aggressive approach to antitrust enforcement under her leadership compared to decades past, but Khan said she’s simply being the “law enforcer” the chair is meant to be.

“In many ways, we’re undertaking a deeply conservative project, making sure we’re going back to the roots of what the FTC is about, the actual text of the laws that Congress created, and making sure we’re being faithful to the law on the books and the legal precedent,” Khan said.

Some of Khan’s critics include The Wall Street Journal editorial board, which last week published a piece titled “Lina Khan Wears Prada,” criticizing the FTC’s move to block a merger of two luxury fashion firms. The editorial headline seemed to be a reference to the 2006 film, “The Devil Wears Prada.”

“I don’t own any,” Khan said, with a smile and a laugh, of the Italian fashion house, going on to defend the FTC’s decisions on mergers. “Look, 98% of all deals in America go through without even a second question being asked by the American government. It’s absolutely true that when we spot an illegal merger, we won’t hesitate to act because if we don’t do our job, the American people will lose out.”

Khan has gained a reputation in her field as a fierce critic of Big Tech’s dominance, and a piece she published about Amazon when she was a law student put her on the map.

That 2017 article, called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” which was published in the Yale Law Journal and has been cited more than 2,000 times, argued Amazon was a monopoly that had “evaded government scrutiny in part through fervently devoting its business strategy and rhetoric to reducing prices for consumers.”

In September, the FTC and more than a dozen states sued Amazon, alleging it engaged in illegal business practices that allowed it to “wield monopoly power.”

“In what way is Amazon a monopoly?” Karl asked. “Because I can buy on Amazon, but I can also go down the street and I can buy at Walmart or I can buy at Target.”

Khan said that Amazon has taken actions that ultimately mistreat customers.

“The fees that it charges to small businesses have dramatically increased over the last few years, so that now some small businesses have to pay 1 out of every $2 to Amazon. It’s basically a 50% Amazon tax,” she explained.

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“Our lawsuit also alleges that Amazon has been using a whole set of secret algorithms to quietly raise prices for consumers,” she continued. “Our lawsuit alleges that if Amazon had not engaged in these illegal tactics, that would have allowed more rival online superstores to emerge, and that would be better for consumers who would face more price competition.”

Amazon rebuked the lawsuits’ claims after it was filed last year.

“The practices the FTC is challenging have helped to spur competition and innovation across the retail industry, and have produced greater selection, lower prices, and faster delivery speeds for Amazon customers and greater opportunity for the many businesses that sell in Amazon’s store,” Amazon said at the time.

Both Meta (formerly Facebook) and Amazon separately filed motions with the FTC requesting that Khan be recused from any decision related to their companies. She did not.

“Why did you not do that?” Karl pressed.

“The ethics laws primarily require recusal when you have some kind of conflict of interest,” she said, like having stock in a company or a close family member who works for a company.

“But not a clear bias?” Karl pushed back. “I mean, you obviously had an opinion about Amazon before you took this job.”

“I had done academic work. A lot of people that have the fortune of being appointed to these jobs come in through having done policy work,” Khan said. “We’re absolutely focused on enforcing the law without fear or favor. Well, we also don’t want to kind of indulge, you know, requests that are not serious and that are being made in a frivolous way if there’s no real conflict of interest.”

For all the predictable critics, Khan also has fans spanning the political spectrum, from progressives like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to supporters of former President Donald Trump like Ohio Sen. JD Vance and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Her Republican supporters have been dubbed the “Khanservatives.”

Their support, however, doesn’t surprise Khan.

“Antitrust and anti-monopoly has a long bipartisan history in our country,” she said. “and it’s because there’s long been a recognition that in the same ways that if you concentrate power in our political sphere, that can undermine people’s liberties and freedoms; if you concentrate power in the economic sphere, that can also be a major threat.”

Khan said that monopoly power attracts bipartisan scrutiny, so regardless of who wins the presidential election in November and who chairs the FTC next, she believes the agency’s approach under her leadership will continue.

“The bipartisan concern that we see about monopoly power, the way we see concern about people’s data being harvested and surveilled, the way we see concern about financialization of health care — these are all issues that I think will continue to attract concern no matter who’s in this job,” she said.

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