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FTC chairman faces criticism in Congressional hearing

Leena KhanThe chairman of the Federal Trade Commission faced more than three hours of criticism and derision from Republicans at a House hearing on Thursday, as agitated critics stepped up pressure on the agency to act on the growing power of tech giants.

During the highly partisan hearing, Republicans accused Ms Khan, 34, of “harassing” businesses, who has driven an aggressive agenda of lawsuits and investigations against tech companies. Lawmakers, who repeatedly railed against Ms. Khan, also ridiculed her for the FTC’s recent losses in antitrust cases and for wasting government resources.

“You’re 0 out of 4 now on merger trials,” Republican Representative Kevin Kelly of California told a House Judiciary Committee hearing. “Why are you losing so much?”

The bumpy session capped off a difficult week that has drawn more FTC scrutiny. It was Ms Khan’s first public appearance since a judge on Tuesday ruled against the agency’s effort to block Microsoft’s $70 billion acquisition of Activision. It was a major defeat in the tech case for the FTC after another judge in May ruled against an attempt to block Meta’s acquisition of Vidin, a virtual reality app maker.

Ms. Khan has become a lightning rod for her efforts to rein in corporate power and give the FTC more enforcement power. Since President Biden picked him to lead the agency two years ago, he has said the FTC was too reckless and needed to pursue more lawsuits against companies, even if he doesn’t always win. He has said that even after losing in court, these cases highlight the need to update antitrust laws for the digital age.

At Thursday’s hearing, legal scholar Ms. Khan said she did not bring cases she thought she would lose. But he acknowledged the risks of his strategy, without mentioning the Microsoft case.

“We fight hard when we believe the law has been violated and unfortunately things don’t always go our way,” Ms Khan said.

The losses haven’t weakened his focus on the tech industry. On Thursday, the FTC filed an appeal against the court’s ruling on Microsoft’s deal with Activision. Also this week, it opened an investigation In the artificial intelligence start-up, OpenAI, which creates the ChatGPT chatbot, for potentially harming consumers by privacy and security lapses and spreading misinformation about individuals.

The White House on Thursday reiterated its support for Ms Khan. “Chair Mines has delivered results for families, consumers, workers, small businesses and entrepreneurs,” White House assistant press secretary Michael Kikukawa said in a statement.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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