House Republicans set to question FTC’s Khan on ethics, antitrust issues

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans who say the Federal Trade Commission has been overzealous and politicized under President Joe Biden are set to question agency chief Lina Khan on Thursday, bringing her before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time amid its legal battles with big tech companies.

Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has criticized Khan in recent months on a slew of issues, including what he says were politically motivated actions directed at Elon Musk after he acquired Twitter last year, questions about whether she should have recused herself from certain cases and her lawsuits against tech giants over antitrust issues. In April, the committee subpoenaed Khan after a panel investigation found the FTC had “harassed” Twitter following Musk’s acquisition.

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

The hearing comes as the agency has been embroiled in several legal cases against tech companies and Khan – an outspoken critic of Big Tech before becoming the agency’s head – has tried, not always successfully, to toughen up government regulation of these companies.

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

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

Another judge has pushed back against the FTC’s attempt earlier this year to block Meta from taking over virtual reality fitness company Within Unlimited.

The FTC also sued Amazon for allegedly embarking on a year-long effort to enroll consumers without consent into Amazon Prime and making it difficult for them to cancel their subscriptions. In a lawsuit 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 efforts this spring to obtain internal communications from owner Elon Musk, as part of ongoing oversight of the social media company’s privacy and cybersecurity practices.

The agency has been monitoring the company for years since Twitter accepted a consent order in 2011 alleging serious data security breaches. But the agency’s concerns grew with the uproar following Musk’s takeover of the company in October and the mass layoffs that followed.

Khan, a lawyer, was a known tech critic when she took over the agency in 2021 and her appointment was seen as a signal from the Biden administration that it would be difficult for tech companies as they were subjected to a intense pressure from other state regulators and attorneys general.

She was a professor at Columbia University Law School and came to prominence for her 2017 academic work as a Yale law student, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” This work helped lay the groundwork for a new way of looking at antitrust law beyond the impact of big business market dominance on consumer prices.

And she has experience with the Judiciary Committee, having served as an adviser to the panel’s antitrust subcommittee in 2019 and 2020. technology.

The Jordan House judicial panel has also sued tech companies for what Republicans say is censorship of conservatives. The committee subpoenaed the chief executives of the five biggest 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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