Financial Times: Lina Khan, the woman taking on Big Tech

June 18, 2021 Media

Just before Halloween in 2013, Lina Khan wandered through the vast selection of sweets at her local Safeway supermarket and came away with a disturbing revelation.

The roughly 40 brands of candy on the shelves offered only a mirage of consumer choice; they were actually owned by just two or three confectioners. Khan, a junior policy analyst at the time, was so dismayed that she wrote about it in Time magazine. “If we want a healthier, more diverse market — and more variety in our Halloween buckets — we could start by reviving some of our antitrust laws.”

Khan’s critique of corporate power has gone far beyond Big Candy. She has explored concentration issues and monopolistic behaviour in sectors ranging from airlines to poultry and metals, drawing similar conclusions. And she started to train her attention on the excessive market influence of Big Tech, eventually becoming one of its most vocal and prominent critics.

So when Khan, who is just 32, was this week tapped by US president Joe Biden to be chair of the Federal Trade Commission, the top competition regulator, it sent shockwaves through Washington, Wall Street and Silicon Valley. The prevailing expectation is that she will now seek to usher in a new era of antitrust enforcement in America.

Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, calls Khan the “Simone Biles” of antitrust, referring to the record-breaking US Olympic gymnast. “Demonstrating that America has this massive concentration crisis . . . played a part in making folks in way more traditional Democratic circles realise that a full turning of the page was necessary . . . And that she was the obvious one to help lead that.”