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Facebook asks for recusal of FTC Chair Lina Khan, claiming bias

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Facebook is pushing for Lina Khan, the new head of the Federal Trade Commission, to step away from antitrust investigations into the social network giant. The tech company asserts that Khan's previous public criticism of the company's market power makes it impossible for her to be impartial in the case.

Facebook petitioned the agency Wednesday to remove Khan from taking part in current probes of its market conduct. The motion comes two weeks after Amazon requested that Khan be removed from its case.

"When a new commissioner has already drawn factual and legal conclusions and deemed the target a lawbreaker, due process requires that individual to recuse herself from related matters when acting in the capacity of an FTC commissioner," Facebook said in its petition. "Chair 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."

FTC officials declined to comment on Facebook's motion to the Associated Press. The agency could be expected to respond formally to Facebook's and Amazon's requests at some point.

Khan, who was confirmed by the Senate on a 69-28 vote, has been a prominent critic of Amazon, Google and Apple, as well as Facebook. At 32, she is the youngest chair in the history of the agency, which polices competition and consumer protection in industry generally, as well as digital privacy.

Prior to her appointment, Khan was counsel to a House Judiciary antitrust panel in 2019 and 2020, where she played a key role in an extensive bipartisan investigation of the market power of tech giants, which concluded with a recommendation to break up the companies. Khan rose to prominence with a 2017 paper, "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox," in which she argued that current antitrust law could not grapple with the power wielded by the e-commerce giant.

At her confirmation hearings, Khan said she would seek the opinion of FTC ethics monitors if issues arose of potential conflict of interest.

A legal battle

The requests from Facebook and Amazon come as the four tech giants face extreme scrutiny and legislative pressure from the FTC, the Justice Department and European regulators, lawmakers in Washington and most recently an executive order from the White House.

President Joe Biden's installation of Khan as one of five commissioners and head of the FTC signals a tough stance toward Big Tech and its market dominance.

However, government enforcers face an uphill battle convincing the courts to take action against tech giants. A federal judge recently dismissed antitrust lawsuits brought against Facebook by the FTC and a coalition of states, saying they didn't provide enough evidence to prove that Facebook is a monopoly in the social networking market. The judge, however, allowed the FTC to revise its complaint and try again.

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In its petition to the FTC, Facebook said it wanted "to protect the fairness and impartiality" of the agency's antitrust proceedings. "Chair Khan has consistently made well-documented statements about Facebook and antitrust matters that would lead any reasonable observer to conclude that she has prejudged the Facebook antitrust case brought by the FTC," the company said in a statement.

Biden's sweeping executive order on competition in U.S. industries, issued July 9, includes a new policy of closer scrutiny by regulators of proposed mergers, especially by dominant internet companies. Giant tech companies have snapped up competitors in hundreds of mergers in recent years, waved through by antitrust enforcers in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The new order also asks the FTC to establish new rules on surveillance by tech giants and their accumulation of users' data. In addition, the agency is requested to write rules barring unfair practices toward competitors in online marketplaces.

Last month ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, and force them to sever their dominant platforms from their other lines of business was approved by a key House committee and sent to the full U.S. House. Some lawmakers and others critical of Facebook have cited its popular Instagram and WhatsApp messaging services as likely candidates to be divested from the core platform.

CBS News' Irina Ivanova contributed reporting.

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