The White House today took its most aggressive step yet against large technology companies, naming anti-monopoly advocate Lina Khan to head the Federal Trade Commission. Whether the news will rattle tech companies—or their investors—remains to be seen.
Despite multiple antitrust lawsuits and investigations, and many hours of grandstanding by members of Congress, investors in the world’s most dominant technologies continue to be rewarded with record earnings. Last week, a slate of antitrust bills introduced by House lawmakers that would dramatically reshape the five companies were greeted by investors with a collective shrug.
And on Tuesday, tech stocks barely flinched at the news. But Khan’s arrival is likely to put Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft on the defensive in a way the past few years of heated anti-tech rhetoric have not.
That’s because Khan’s appointment to lead the agency, one of two antitrust enforcers in the U.S. along with the Justice Department, poses perhaps the most serious threat yet. Although she is just one person on a five-member commission, as chair she will set the enforcement and policy priorities for the agency. That could very well mean an antitrust case against Amazon, given her law school paper outlining the antitrust problems with the online retailer. A Khan-led FTC also is likely to bring enforcement actions to rein in not just the technology sector, but corporate America writ large.
Khan is a law professor at Columbia Law School, and former influential House staffer on the antitrust subcommittee. At 32 years old, she will be the youngest person to chair the agency.
Her appointment to the top FTC role came on the same day that the Senate confirmed her nomination to serve on the commission, by a 69-28 vote. That tally alone—21 Republicans voted in her favor despite her liberal leanings—is another reminder to big tech companies that, however their businesses perform, they have some tough battles ahead.—Josh Sisco
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AUDIO’S NEXT BIG TEST: TALKING IN PERSON
Facebook’s introduction of a new social audio feature called live audio rooms poses a big test for Clubhouse, the buzzy startup that rose to a $4 billion valuation and 10 million users in about a year. As Kaya writes in today’s Creator Economy newsletter, Facebook’s habit of copying its competitors’ best products was evident in how the app looked—the bubbles of speakers at the top of the screen—to how it sounded. But an even bigger test, for both Clubhouse and Facebook, has just started to happen far from those virtual interactions.
In California, where both companies are based, Tuesday marked the day when the state could return to almost all in-person interactions—billed by some as the “grand reopening.” People celebrated with parties, dancing and baseball bobblehead giveaways, reported CNN. None happened remotely.
We’ve already gotten a taste for how the loosening of pandemic restrictions has played out with audio apps, which became a popular outlet for people cut off from friends and other forms of entertainment during the pandemic. They became less popular. In April, Clubhouse’s downloads plunged 66% versus March, according to Sensor Tower, which tracks mobile apps. The drop coincided with the rollout of vaccines in the U.S.
Of course, as Martin pointed out in an April column, people were tuning into audio-only services (i.e. the radio) in droves well before the pandemic, making radio more popular than any other media. Given how attached we are to our smartphones, apps that offer a new spin on a favorite habit will probably hold their allure even when we don’t feel so isolated. But these digital alternatives will certainly face more competition as normal life resumes. —Laura Mandaro
IN OTHER NEWS...
- IRL, the social messaging network popular with teens, has raised $170 million in a round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2. It was one of the fund’s first major social media investments after leading TikTok-owner ByteDance’s Series D in 2018. The Information first reported on the fundraising talks in April.
- Amazon’s cashierless technology will be deployed in a full-size grocery store for the first time. A new, 25,000 square foot Amazon Fresh grocery store will open later this week in Bellevue, Wash., near Amazon headquarters. The technology, which had previously only been active in Amazon Go stores in the U.S., automatically tallies up customers’ orders as they shop using an array of overhead cameras.
USC Uses Registry to Track Police Misconduct
The USC Safe Communities Institute announced a pilot roll-out of the Law Enforcement Work Inquiry System (LEWIS) Registry – named after the late Rep. John Lewis. The registry will be the “first comprehensive national catalog” of cops who have been terminated or resigned due to misconduct.
2.3M Enroll in Emergency Broadband Program
The FCC announced that 2.3 million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in its first three weeks. Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said since launching, households in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and American Samoa were approved and have selected a participating EBB provider.READ MORE