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Tech antitrust pioneer Lina Khan will officially lead the FTC

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Congress is preparing to take drastic action against tech monopolies

Senate Commerce Committee Considers Nominees For NASA Administrator And Federal Trade Commissioner Photo by Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate confirmed Lina Khan as commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday, by a vote of 69-28. Shortly after the vote, multiple reports said that Khan would chair the agency, a surprise shift that drew applause from progressive Democrats. This afternoon, President Biden made it official, and Khan was officially sworn in as Chair of the FTC.

“The Biden administration’s designation of Lina Khan as Chair of the Federal Trade Commission is tremendous news,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who championed breaking up Big Tech in her 2020 presidential campaign, said in a statement Tuesday. “Lina brings deep knowledge and expertise to this role and will be a fearless champion for consumers.”

The news broke during a Senate Judiciary antitrust hearing on smart home tech Tuesday, when Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) noted that Khan would act as chairwoman of the FTC, surprising many in the audience. Multiple news outlets have gone on to confirm Klobuchar’s statements. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Verge.

First nominated in March, Khan will give Democrats a majority on the commission, filling a vacancy left by Republican appointee and chair Joseph Simons who resigned in January. Khan’s appointment signals an increased focus on antitrust regulation against major tech companies, which has been a focus of her legal scholarship. Khan rose to prominence after a 2017 paper, titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” arguing that new antitrust statutes were necessary to prevent anti-competitive behavior from online platforms like Amazon. More recently, Khan played a significant staff role in assembling the House Antitrust report on competition in digital markets.

Khan’s confirmation comes at a time when Congress is preparing to take drastic action to curb the power big tech companies have on digital markets. Just last week, the House antitrust subcommittee released a slew of bipartisan bills addressing a variety of concerns unveiled in last year’s report — one that Khan played a significant role in investigating. Politico reported Tuesday that Sen. Klobuchar is working to put out companion bills in the Senate similar to those produced by the House last week. One of those bills would give antitrust enforcers more money and authority to go after tech monopolies.

The Federal Trade Commission has struggled to rein in tech giants — most notably with Facebook’s $5 billion Cambridge Analytica fine, which many saw as insufficient to the scale of the misconduct. Congress has put forward a number of measures to try to expand the FTC’s powers, in the hopes that the commission will become a more aggressive regulator against anti-competitive behavior. Most recently, the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act put forward by Klobuchar proposed funding for a new branch of the commission devoted entirely to retroactive merger review and studies of current market conditions.

Update 4:02PM: This story has been updated to reflect that the White House is expected to tap Khan to lead the FTC.

Update 7:54PM: Updated to confirm that Khan has been sworn in as FTC chair.