Civics: Amazon’s Antitrust Antagonist Has a Breakthrough Idea


Ms. Khan was born in London to Pakistani parents who emigrated to the United States when she was 11. She is now 29, an Amazon critic whose Amazon account is largely inactive, newly married to a Texas doctor who uses his Amazon Prime account all the time. Ms. Khan was supposed to move this summer to Los Angeles, where she had a clerkship with Stephen Reinhardt, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge and liberal icon, but he suddenly died in March. Instead, Ms. Khan is set to start a fellowship at Columbia this fall, and is considering other projects as well. There is no shortage of parties that want her advice on how to reckon with Big Tech.

“As consumers, as users, we love these tech companies,” she said. “But as citizens, as workers, and as entrepreneurs, we recognize that their power is troubling. We need a new framework, a new vocabulary for how to assess and address their dominance.”

At the S.M.U. library in Dallas, Ms. Khan was finding that vocabulary. These dead books, many from an era that predated the price-based era of monopoly law, were an influence and an inspiration. She was planning to expand her essay into a book, she said in an interview here in June.

Then her life shifted, and she abruptly went from an outsider proposing reform to an insider formulating policy. Rohit Chopra, a new Democratic commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, pulled her in as a temporary adviser in July, at a time when urgent questions about privacy, data, competition and antitrust were suddenly in the air. The F.T.C. is holding a series of hearings this fall, the first of their type since 1995, on whether a changing economy requires changing enforcement attitudes.

The hearings will begin on Sept. 13 at Georgetown University Law Center. Two panels will debate whether antitrust should keep its narrow focus or, as Ms. Khan urges, expand its range.