Enlarge /. The South Lawn of the White House, which unfortunately does not take the view most people who work for a presidential administration take.
Longtime technology critic Tim Wu joins the Biden administration as an advisor on technology and competition, a signal that the White House is likely to push for policies that curb big tech.
Wu will serve on the National Economic Council as the president's special assistant for technology and competition policy, the White House said this morning. Wu confirmed the news in a tweet.
Wu is best known in professional circles as the man who coined the term "net neutrality" in the early 2000s. Prior to that, he held various federal positions, including serving as a consultant to both the Federal Trade Commission and the National Economic Council. Since 2006 he has been a full professor at Columbia University Law School, teaching First Amendment and Antitrust Law.
In his 2010 book The Master Switch, he argued that the open internet as we knew it was headed for a closed future with walled gardens. In 2018, he published another book, The Curse of Bigness, in which he argued that the failure of US regulators to enforce antitrust laws had created a "new gilded age" and all of the problems that came with it.
Several prominent progressive democratic lawmakers welcomed the move. "Tim was a longtime antitrust attorney, and he's been pushing officials to divorce and contain Big Tech," said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Who called for Big Tech to split during her unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2019. " I'm happy to see him in this role. "
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Who recently proposed a bill that, if it goes into effect, would be the largest antitrust overhaul since 1976, also made a statement in support of Wu's new job. "It is clear that this government is serious about promoting competition in the United States," said Klobuchar. "America has a huge monopoly problem that needs urgent attention … I look forward to working with Tim to modernize antitrust enforcement, strengthen our economies, and protect workers and consumers."
Those who defy his political goals seem concerned about how seriously the White House might take him now. An industry lobbyist who was critical of Wu told Minutes that the appointment "should not be hand-waved … this could be dangerous".
All in all, Wu's new role doesn't put him in a position to jump in with a metaphorical sledgehammer and smash companies. The White House can make whatever proposals it wants, but actual antitrust enforcement comes from the Department of Justice and the FTC, both of which are still waiting for new leadership to be nominated or confirmed. (Wu's nomination to the NEC makes it clear that he won't end up with either of these agencies, even though the Washington rumor mill had identified him as a candidate for both.)
However, both agencies are already deep in their necks in important cases against Big Tech Firms. The FTC and a coalition of 47 states filed antitrust lawsuits in December to break up Facebook, arguing that the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions were anti-competitive and should not have been allowed.
Similarly, the DOJ and several groups of states have filed major cases against Google, arguing that the search-advertising-phone-everything giant is anticompetitive. While these lawsuits, now largely consolidated, do not explicitly seek a separation from Google, they do emphasize that "structural remedial action" may be needed.