The new direction for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was outlined with five principles in a recent staff memo from Chair Lina Khan that emphasized the oversight of Big Tech mergers and their “structural dominance.”
Recently made public, the memo from Khan outlined a strategy that includes a better assessment of the damage caused by digital platforms. She also feels the agency should take a “holistic approach to identifying harms” not only to consumers but to workers and independent businesses.
“Business models that centralize control and profits while outsourcing risk, liability, and costs also warrant particular scrutiny, given that deeply asymmetric relationships between the controlling firm and dependent entities can be ripe for abuse,” she said in the memo.
Khan was named chair of the 107-year-old government agency in June. The FTC is an independent watchdog overseen by five commissioners that enforces antitrust law and works to protect people from unjust business practices and privacy offenses.
While at Yale University, Khan was vocal about the need for tough antitrust enforcement. Her 2017 Yale Law Journal article, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” made the case that the current antitrust framework focused only on consumer safety and was deficient in analyzing powerful tech firms like Amazon.
Her plan also includes “targeting root causes rather than looking at one-off effects” and says FTC staff should examine how particular business models and conflicts of interest can break the law.
She also proposed “scrutinizing dominant firms, where lack of competition makes unlawful conduct more likely.”
Further reading: FTC Is Reviewing Big Tech’s Smaller Deals
Khan said the FTC and its staff should work at being “forward-looking” and respond faster to issues in order to reduce harm. She pointed to “next-generation technologies, innovations, and nascent industries across sectors” as areas that need oversight.
Overall, she wants to democratize the FTC by making sure it’s “in tune with the real problems that Americans are facing in their daily lives.”