Big Tech has yet another reason to be concerned about the threat of US government regulation.
President Biden announced on Tuesday that he was appointment of Jonathan Kanter, a known legal enemy of Google and other big tech companies, heads the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. If confirmed to his post by the Senate, Kanter will have the power to take over cases aimed at dismantling large tech companies or otherwise limiting the size of their companies. And as the head of the DOJ’s antitrust division, Kanter would also decide how to proceed with the Trump administration’s landmark case against Google for engaging in allegedly anti-competitive business practices.
Kanter has long argued that regulators have failed to enforce anti-monopoly and antitrust laws against the tech industry; and that this lack of regulation is hurting small businesses and American consumers. If confirmed, Kanter will join two other people recently appointed by Biden: Lina Khan, who heads the FTC; and Tim Wu, one of the White House’s top economic policy advisers. Like Kanter, both have built their careers arguing that the government needs to more aggressively regulate tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple.
These three powerful government figures are a worrying trifecta for Google and other big tech companies. And their rise to power is good news for supporters of dismantling Big Tech (so much so that some key political supporters have been touting “Wu & Khan & Kanter” cups on social networks).
“With Lina Khan at the Federal Trade Commission, Tim Wu at the National Economic Council and dozens of other powerful leaders in departments and agencies of the Biden administration, Jonathan Kanter’s appointment as head of the antitrust division signals the end of the inexplicable monopoly era. power in America, ”Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute policy group, wrote in a statement.
Other anti-monopoly political groups like the American Economic Liberties Project have made similarly positive statements.
“President Biden has made an excellent choice to head the antitrust division of the DOJ,” wrote Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, in a statement to Recode. “Jonathan Kanter has the experience, values and intellectual forethought to ensure that antitrust law enforcement under the Biden administration is useful to workers, small businesses and communities. … He made many of the most successful legal arguments behind the major Big Tech antitrust investigations.
Kanter is an antitrust lawyer who has previously represented Google competitors like Yelp and Microsoft.
The Senate will have to confirm Kanter to secure his position. Senator Amy Klobuchar (DM), who sponsors bills regulating technology, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) immediately released supporting statements.
“I look forward to working together to ensure that the Antitrust Division fulfills its mission to vigorously enforce antitrust laws, protect consumers and promote competition throughout our economy, and I will continue to lobby to secure additional resources to support this critical effort, “Senator Klobuchar wrote, in part, in a statement.
Kanter’s experience as a representative of Google’s competitors in the past may be something Google is trying to use against him, according to CNBC. The company could lobby to be dismissed from cases involving Google, arguing that they create a conflict of interest for it.
It has already started with Khan: Amazon and Facebook have both petitioned Khan to withdraw from business involving their companies because of his past criticism of their business practices. Khan has the advantage of broad bipartisan support in Congress, so it’s unclear whether these petitions will be successful.
Whereas Trump’s candidate for the head of the antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, had to recuse oneself for the opposite reason – he advised Google earlier in his career – the stories of these new folks’ criticism of the tech sector speak volumes about current attitudes in Washington towards the industry.
Kanter’s appointment is also a reflection of Biden’s broader political agenda to harness the power of Silicon Valley. Earlier this month, Biden issued a decree on competition, asking government agencies like the FTC to take a closer look at the tech sector. And recently it is more and more criticism of social media companies like Facebook for allowing the proliferation of disinformation on topics like Covid-19 on their platforms.
It is true that lawmakers and regulators have been calling for more big tech antitrust scrutiny for some time. But these efforts and appointments signal a change: Rather than just talking about antitrust enforcement, the government may finally be ready to take action.