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Obama picks Leibowitz as FTC chairman

An administration official confirms to CNET the president has chosen Federal Trade Commission member Jon Leibowitz to head the agency.

President Obama plans to appoint current Federal Trade Commission member Jon Leibowitz to lead the agency, which partially enforces antitrust laws and has taken a recent interest in online advertising.

An administration official on Monday confirmed to CNET News that Leibowitz, a Democrat appointed to the five-person commission in 2004, would be nominated as chairman.

Liberal groups including the ACLU and U.S. PIRG last year called on the Obama administration to appoint a chairman who would take a more regulatory approach. More recently, many of those same groups criticized the FTC's view that self-regulation of online targeted advertising was sufficient, which Leibowitz also seemed to take issue with.

"Industry needs to do a better job of meaningful, rigorous self-regulation, or it will certainly invite legislation by Congress and a more regulatory approach by our commission," he said earlier this month.

In November 2007, Leibowitz suggested that Internet companies should take an "opt in" approach to cookies instead of the current "opt out" approach, a requirement that would have roiled the industry. He also suggested the idea of a "Do Not Track" list for Web surfers.

"Leibowitz will help transform what has been a largely anemic regulatory watchdog during the Bush years into an agency that sees its first priority as consumer protection," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a liberal group that advocates for more regulation. "Public interest groups such as mine appreciate that Leibowitz has called for tougher online privacy safeguards, and that his door has always been open."

The FTC under Leibowitz will also continue to address questions of anti-comptetitive practices in the technology sector, including in its proceeding investigation of Intel.

"Under Leibowitz's lead, we expect this investigation to proceed fairly and hope that the new chairman uses his position to investigate similar anti-competitive abuses by other companies," said Ed Black, the president and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association. "His knowledge of high-tech and Internet issues is a huge plus."

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt the FTC a bitter defeat when it declined to hear the agency's appeal of the unsuccessful Sherman Act antitrust case it brought against chipmaker Rambus. The case has lasted seven years and is now effectively over; the FTC initially alleged the company "threatens to undermine participation in industry standard-setting activities."

Leibowitz was one of two commissioners to dissent from the FTC'S 2006 decision to allow Time Warner and Comcast to buy cable television systems from Adelphia Communications, without conditions. He and commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour called for restrictions to keep the cable companies from discriminating against rival providers.

On the issue of Net neutrality, Leibowitz stood out from his colleagues in June 2007 when the FTC released a report stating no new laws were necessary. Leibowitz issued an opinion saying existing antitrust laws may not have been "adequate to the task" of Internet broadband regulation.

"Will carriers block, slow or interfere with applications?" Leibowitz asked at a public hearing held by the FTC in November 2006. "If so, will consumers be told about this before they sign up? In my mind, failure to disclose these procedures would be...unfair and deceptive."

Leibowitz previously worked as a lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America. Before that, he was chief counsel and staff director for a Senate antitrust subcommittee.

Plans for Leibowitz's nomination were first reported by Bloomberg.

CNET's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report