Big tech critic Tim Wu joins the Biden administration to work on competition policy


Timothy Wu, professor of law at Columbia University, testifies during a Senate Justice Committee hearing in Washington, DC

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Big tech critic and antitrust lawyer Tim Wu announced on Friday that he was joining the Biden administration to work on technology and competition policy on the National Economic Council.

The hiring signals that the White House takes competition policy seriously and is likely to be viewed positively by progressives hoping for stronger enforcement of antitrust laws, especially against tech giants like Amazon and Facebook. Wu’s writing has been instrumental in driving the idea that big tech companies should be broken up in order to revive competition, particularly through his 2018 book “The Curse of Greatness: Antitrust Law in the New Gilded Age”.

Wu has helped shape some of the major debates around technology over the past decade. He coined the term “net neutrality” to describe the idea that Internet service providers should not distinguish between different types of online communication. Under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission set up a net neutrality rule, but the Trump FCC reversed it. However, the agency under President Joe Biden could revive the rule.

Wu recently taught antitrust law at Columbia University and worked in the New York Attorney General, Federal Trade Commission, and the NEC under President Barack Obama.

However, Biden has yet to fill the top antitrust enforcement functions in his administration. His selection for the FTC and the Justice Department Antitrust Division will either cement or undermine the idea that he is ready to crack down on big tech. Reports of Biden’s possible choices for these roles range from progressives consistent with Wu’s views to those who have worked for or advised the technology companies themselves. Critics fear the latter would be too lenient with big tech.

Strengthening regulation of tech companies has been a rare topic between Democrats and Republicans in recent years. When the House Democrats came out with their detailed report on alleged anti-competitive behavior by Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google last year, several key Republicans agreed with the report’s main allegations. Some GOP members supported the exact proposed legislative changes.

It was also a common thread between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, under which the DOJ and the FTC brought antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook, respectively. The Biden government is expected to continue these lawsuits and may even expand their scope.

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Katherine Clark