By Ryan Tracy 

WASHINGTON -- Lina Khan, a Big Tech critic nominated to a seat on the Federal Trade Commission, appeared on track to win confirmation after a hearing Wednesday showed she has broad Democratic support -- and might win some Republican votes.

Ms. Khan, a liberal law professor and former congressional staffer who co-wrote a House report concluding that large online platforms can harm consumers, signaled support for a more aggressive approach from the FTC when it comes to digital markets for news, smartphone apps and more.

Under questioning from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Ms. Khan expressed support for an FTC review of the impact that Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Facebook Inc. have had on the journalism industry.

"Everything needs to be on the table. Obviously local journalism is in crisis," Ms. Khan said. "Increasingly, news publishers are dependent on a few gatekeepers to disseminate their news."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) asked Ms. Khan about large technology companies' market power and then told her: "I look forward to working with you."

Other Republicans appeared more skeptical. Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) questioned her about the limits of the FTC's rule-making authority and her criticism of U.S. antitrust laws.

"I have concerns about your background and lack of experience in coming to that position," said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.). She asked Ms. Khan how her approach to merger reviews would have been different than under the Obama administration, when officials declined to challenge many acquisitions by large technology companies.

"There has been a lot of evidence that has come to light that suggests that in certain cases there were missed opportunities for enforcement actions," Ms. Khan said. The Democratic-controlled Senate could approve her nomination without any Republicans voting yes.

At 32 years old, Ms. Khan would be the youngest person ever confirmed to an FTC commissioner post. FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who has been nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was 34 at the time of his confirmation.

As one of five FTC commissioners, Ms. Khan won't be able to dictate policies. She will have a vote on new regulations and enforcement actions on consumer-protection and antitrust issues, including any that might arise from the agency's continuing antitrust inquiry into Amazon.com Inc. She and Mr. Chopra last year argued that in addition to bringing antitrust lawsuits, the FTC should be using its authority to regulate unfair methods of competition.

Ms. Khan served until last year as a Democratic staffer on the House Antitrust Subcommittee, where she helped write a report that concluded Amazon, Apple Inc., Facebook and Google hold significant and durable market power that hurts consumers.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), who leads the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, asked the nominee about competition in digital markets, including on smartphone app stores.

"You're absolutely right that certain terms and conditions really lack any type of beneficial justification," Ms. Khan said, referring to terms and conditions imposed on app developers. "In those cases, we need to be especially skeptical and really look closely."

Write to Ryan Tracy at ryan.tracy@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 21, 2021 14:40 ET (18:40 GMT)

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