Biden taps Google critic for top antitrust post as he builds anti-tech team
Progressives get desired trifecta of tech foes in Biden's White House
President Biden on Tuesday announced that he had picked Google critic Jonathan Kanter to run the Justice Department's antitrust division, building out his team of Big Tech enforcers as the White House takes an aggressive stance against anti-competitive corporate behavior.
Progressives now have their desired trifecta of tech foes in the Biden administration: Kanter, Federal Trade Commission chief Lina Khan and White House adviser Tim Wu – a group known among antitrust advocates as "Wu & Khan & Kanter."
Kanter, a longtime antitrust attorney who has represented companies pushing antitrust enforcers to sue Alphabet's Google, has has "been a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy," the White House said in a statement.
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If confirmed by the Senate, Kanter would take over the DOJ's antitrust division, which filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google last October alleging the company uses exclusionary agreements and other tactics to maintain a monopoly for its search engine, the first such complaint by the federal government against a tech company in decades.
Google has denied the allegations, and a trial is not expected until late 2023.
Kanter's nomination comes about Biden in March selected Wu and Khan – two prominent antitrust advocates – for their respective roles as White House adviser and FTC chief.
Khan, who was confirmed by the Senate in June, is a well-known scholar who has pushed for stricter regulation of Big Tech. In her role as FTC chief, Khan will be tasked with steering the direction of the agency and enforcing competition laws.
She previously served as counsel to a House Judiciary Committee panel whose sweeping 16-month investigation of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google concluded the tech giants abused their market power by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms and extracting data from people and businesses that rely on them.
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Khan suggested "structural separations" of the companies. Lawmakers across the political aisle are now pursuing a series of sweeping new antitrust bills that could break up some of the biggest tech giants.
The 32-year-old, the youngest-ever chair of the FTC, rose to prominence with an acclaimed 2017 Yale Law Journal article titled "Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox" that laid out the weakness of existing antitrust rules for companies such as Amazon, which she said employs a strategy of low prices while positioning itself at the center of e-commerce in order to avoid scrutiny. Khan argued U.S. law focuses too much on prices and short-term impact on consumers and thus fails to squelch anti-competitive behavior.
Wu, meanwhile, is a former law professor at Columbia University and Obama administration offical who's now back at the White House as a special assistant to the president of technology and competition policy. Credited with coining the term "net neutrality," Wu has also criticized the concentration of corporate power and in 2018 authored "The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age," warning the power of Silicon Valley behemoths poses a looming political and economic threat.
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"With Lina Khan at the Federal Trade Commission, Tim Wu on the National Economic Council, and dozens of other strong leaders in departments and agencies throughout the Biden administration, Jonathan Kanter’s nomination to lead the Antitrust Division spells the end of the era of unaccountable monopoly power in America," Barry Lynn, executive director of the policy group Open Markets Institute, wrote in a statement.
Biden, often viewed as a corporate-friendly centrist, has taken a tougher-than-expected stance against Big Tech and other businesses. Two weeks ago, the president signed a sprawling executive order designed to promote competition in the U.S. economy, including measures such as allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter, lowering the price of prescription drugs, banning or limiting non-compete clauses and establishing rules on surveillance the collection of data by Big Tech.
"The heart of American capitalism is a simple idea: Open and fair competition," Biden said in remarks at the White House, shortly before signing the order. "That means if your companies want to win your business, they have to go out and they have got to up their game. Better prices and services, better ideas and products. The competition keeps the economy moving and it keeps it growing. A competitive economy must mean that companies do everything they can to compete for workers."