Big Tech has one more reason to worry about looming US government regulation.
President Biden announced Tuesday that he was nominating Jonathan Kanter, a known legal opponent of Google and other major tech companies, to head the Justice Department's antitrust division. If confirmed in office by the Senate, Kanter will have the power to take cases to liquidate big tech companies or otherwise limit the size of their businesses. And as head of the antitrust department of the DOJ, Kanter would also decide how to proceed with the groundbreaking case of the Trump administration against Google for allegedly anti-competitive business practices.
Kanter has long argued that regulators have failed to enforce anti-monopoly antitrust laws against the technology sector, and that this lack of regulation harms small businesses and American consumers. If confirmed, Kanter will join two other recently appointed Biden: Lina Khan, who heads the FTC; and Tim Wu, a top White House adviser on economic policy. Like Kanter, both have built their careers arguing that the government needs to regulate tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple more aggressively.
These three powerful government figures are a worrying trifecta for Google and other big tech companies. And their rise to power is welcome news to supporters of Big Tech's breakup (so much so that some key political supporters have been promoting "Wu & Khan & Kanter" cups on social media).
“With Lina Khan on the Federal Trade Commission, Tim Wu on the National Economic Council, and dozens of other strong executives in departments and agencies across the Biden government, the nomination of Jonathan Kanter to head the Antitrust Division marks the end of the era of inexplicable monopoly of power in America, ”wrote Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute Policy Group, in a statement.
Other anti-monopoly political groups like the American Economic Liberties Project have made similar positive statements.
"President Biden has made an excellent choice to lead the DOJ's antitrust division," Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, wrote in a statement to Recode. “Jonathan Kanter has the experience, values and intellectual foresight to ensure that antitrust enforcement under the Biden government benefits professionals, small businesses and communities. … He developed many of the most successful legal arguments for the big antitrust investigation against Big Tech. "
Kanter is an antitrust attorney who previously represented Google competitors such as Yelp and Microsoft.
The Senate must confirm Kanter in order to secure his position. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-M), who sponsors bills to regulate technology, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) immediately released statements of support.
“I look forward to working together to ensure that the Antitrust Department accomplishes its mission of vigorously enforcing antitrust laws, protecting consumers and promoting competition across our economy, and I will continue to urge additional resources to support these critical endeavors to get. "Wrote Senator Klobuchar in part in a statement.
Kanter's experience of representing Google's competitors in the past could be something Google is trying to use against him, according to CNBC. The company could push for him to be banned from cases with Google, arguing that they pose a conflict of interest for him.
At Khan, it has already started: Amazon and Facebook have asked Khan to withdraw from cases with their companies based on their previous criticism of their business practices. Khan has the benefit of broad bipartisan support in Congress, so it is unclear whether these petitions will be successful.
Given that Trump's antitrust candidate, Makan Delrahim, had to retire for the opposite reason – he advised Google earlier in his career – the history of these tech hires says a lot about the current hiring in Washington versus industry.
Kanter's appointment also reflects Biden's broader political agenda to contain the power of Silicon Valley. Earlier this month, Biden issued a competition executive order directing government agencies such as the FTC to scrutinize the technology sector. And recently, he's been increasingly criticizing social media companies like Facebook for allowing misinformation on topics like Covid-19 to be spread on their platforms.
It's true that lawmakers and regulators have been pushing for stronger antitrust scrutiny of Big Tech for some time. But these efforts and appointments signal a change: instead of just talking about antitrust enforcement, the government may finally be ready to take action.