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Facebook petitions for recusal of FTC chief, joining Amazon

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Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan is seen at her Senate confirmation on April 21, 2021./AFP
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Jul 15, 2021 - 03:18 AM

WASHINGTON — Facebook on Wednesday filed a formal request calling for the recusal of Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan in any antitrust action against the social media giant, arguing that she is biased and cannot rule impartially.

The move follows a similar request from Amazon last month in anticipation of a wave of antitrust enforcement action against Big Tech firms from the regulatory agency under its new leader appointed by President Joe Biden.

In its petition to the FTC, Facebook said Khan “has consistently made public statements not only accusing Facebook of conduct that merits disapproval but specifically expressing her belief that the conduct meets the elements of an antitrust offense.”

Facebook cited Khan’s academic writings, her work for the activist Open Markets Institute and a congressional panel which conducted a broad antitrust review, as well as her public statements and comments on Twitter.

These actions “would lead any disinterested observer to conclude that she has prejudged Facebook’s alleged antitrust liability,” Facebook’s attorneys argued, adding that under judicial precedent, “that appearance of prejudgment requires her immediate recusal from any involvement in the antitrust litigation against Facebook.”

The prominent advocate of breaking up Big Tech firms was sworn in as chair of the FTC agency in June, ramping up the potential for antitrust enforcement.

Her academic writings and other comments point to her conclusion that Facebook and other major tech firms should be broken up, according to the petition.

In a 2019 law review article, for example, she wrote that Facebook “has both foreclosed competitors from its platform and appropriated their business information and functionality” and that the social media leader “has established a systemic informational advantage (gleaned from competitors) that it can reap to thwart rivals and strengthen its own position.”

Amazon made a similar argument, noting Khan’s 2017 law journal article called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” which argued that the current framework for antitrust enforcement pegged to “consumer welfare” is ill-equipped to deal with “market power in the modern economy” of giants such as Amazon.

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