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Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Senators scrutinized the connected device industry of home assistants, music players and other smart home products Tuesday.

Driving the news: Lawmakers from both parties see the smart speaker market as another area where tech giants like Google and Amazon may take unfair advantage of competitors and users.

Why it matters: Congress's antitrust legislation has focused mostly on the workings of social network and e-commerce platforms. Tuesday's hearing ofthe Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee makes it more likely that Senate antitrust bills will also take aim at the connected device market.

What they're saying: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chair of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, told Axios: "There are 94 million people in the U.S. on at least one connected speaker. Let's get ahead of this, as opposed to just being behind it."

Representatives from both Google and Amazon said interoperability was a goal of their products at the hearing. But they declined to fully commit to the concept on the record, Klobuchar said, which she found concerning.

  • Klobuchar said she'd like to see various systems work with each other seamlessly and incorporate robust privacy protections.

Eddie Lazarus, chief counsel of home sound system company Sonos, testified about Sonos' complaints about both Google and Amazon.

  • Lazarus told Axios: "My sense there is broad support for doing something significant... the connected home space is a subset of the overall enterprise of modernizing antitrust for the digital age."

Go deeper

Lina Khan will chair Federal Trade Commission

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: An Rong Xu/Washington Post via Getty Images

The White House has named Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission, marking a major shift toward more aggressive enforcement aimed at the digital economy.

Driving the news: The Senate confirmed Khan to the FTC 69-28 on Tuesday. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said during a Judiciary Committee hearing that Khan was to be named chair of the agency. A source familiar with the matter confirmed the White House's choice to Axios.

  • Khan does not need to go through additional Senate confirmation to take on the role of chair.
  • The FTC is currently being chaired by Democrat Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, a former aide for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Why it matters: Khan, an antitrust expert well-known for her ideas for applying competition law to the tech industry, is sure to spook tech platforms.

  • Khan, 32 years old, is a hero to critics of tech who want to see the government act more aggressively against what they see as anti-competitive behavior from companies like Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

Catch up quick: Khan was nominated to be a commissioner on the FTC by the Biden administration in March. She's an associate professor of law at Columbia Law School, where she teaches antitrust.

  • Formerly an adviser to the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust investigation of tech firms, Khan also worked for Democratic FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra.
  • Khan rose to prominence in 2017 when she wrote an article for Yale Law Journal titled, "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox," arguing that Amazon's retail business should be separated from its selling platform.
Jun 15, 2021 - Technology

Senate confirms antitrust expert Lina Khan as FTC commissioner

Lina Khan speaks at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing. Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The Senate voted 69-28 on Tuesday to confirm antitrust expert Lina Khan as a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission.

Why it matters: Known for her work on how to apply antitrust laws to the tech industry, Khan's confirmation marks a changing tide in federal government efforts to rein in Big Tech companies, Axios' Ashley Gold and Margaret Harding McGill report.

House antitrust bills take tight aim at tech giants

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The sweeping antitrust bills House lawmakers introduced Friday don't just propose broad new principles of digital-age competition — they put giant bullseyes on the backs of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

Why it matters: Laws crafted now to tie the hands of today's dominant companies will still be on the books for years and decades to come, and critics are already flagging possible unintended consequences.