Biden is burdening the administration with probably the most distinguished critics of Large Tech

United States President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 8, 2021 during International Women’s Day.

Almond Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Almost two months into his presidency, it is finally becoming clear how Joe Biden plans to approach the tech sector. And it looks very different than under the Obama administration.

The selection of two of the big tech companies’ top critics, Lina Khan and Tim Wu, for key administrative roles seems to signal that Biden is serious about scrutinizing giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The latter two companies are already facing federal antitrust lawsuits that were filed under the previous administration.

Biden’s reported selection of Khan as a candidate for the Federal Trade Commission leaves little room for doubt that the government is hoping for robust enforcement of antitrust and other technology regulations. Politico reported Tuesday that the government was late in reviewing the candidate this week, citing sources. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request to comment on the report.

Prior to her current role as a law student at Columbia University, Khan served on the House’s Antitrust Subcommittee. She helped create the nearly 450-page report accusing the four tech giants of maintaining monopoly power and proposed a major overhaul of antitrust laws and their enforcement.

The 32-year-old Khan made her name in cartel science after writing “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” as a law student at Yale University in 2017. She advocated a broader understanding of how US antitrust laws could be applied to a company like Amazon. While for years the courts have often relied on the much debated “consumer protection” standard to assess whether an antitrust violation has occurred (often tied to the price of goods and services to consumers), Khan argued that the standard The potential damage from online platforms is poorly prepared for the assessment.

Khan wrote that predatory pricing might be uniquely in the interests of platforms, as they are often rewarded for seeking growth rather than profit. Externally, this could benefit consumers through price cuts, but would undercut legitimate competitors who could be excluded from the market. She also argued that platforms can take control of “essential infrastructure” competitors, which allows platforms to use information against competitors.

In addition to Khan’s expected appointment, the government announced last week that Columbia University law professor Tim Wu would join the National Economic Council to work on technology and competition policy. With his book, The Curse of Greatness: Antitrust Law in the New Gilded Age, Wu helped publicize the idea that big technology firms may have to be broken up in order to revive competition. He also coined the term “net neutrality,” which ultimately sparked a huge debate about whether Internet service providers should be able to slow down or speed up Internet services.

Before these two tips were revealed, technology critics continued to be concerned about how Biden would ultimately choose his top tech executors. Progressive groups warned administration against selecting employees or candidates with big tech relationships, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who is allegedly under discussion for an administrative role.

The fear also came from the Obama administration’s reputation as a tech-friendly White House that did not take major enforcement action against the tech giants. Even so, many expected that Biden’s approach would likely be different, if only because public sentiment towards the tech sector has fluctuated dramatically since 2016.

To be sure, Biden has yet to take on the top antitrust role in the Justice Department and the fifth vacant spot on the FTC, provided his candidate for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who is currently the FTC commissioner, is confirmed. However, the selection of Khan and Wu for key roles seems to be sending a strong signal to both progressives and big tech companies that administration will not step back from strong enforcement.

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