Feb 11, 2020 - Technology

FTC reviewing a decade of Big Tech acquisitions

Statue outside FTC headquarters in Washington. Photo: Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday it is investigating acquisitions made by Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet/Google from 2010 on.

Why it matters: As pressure mounts to regulate Big Tech companies as monopolies, the FTC is one of two arms of the federal government empowered to enforce antitrust law, along with the Justice Department.

Driving the news: The FTC is examining prior acquisitions that were not previously reported to antitrust authorities to learn whether large tech companies are buying up small potential competitors in an anticompetitive manner, the agency said in a release.

  • “This initiative will enable the commission to take a closer look at acquisitions in this important sector, and also to evaluate whether the federal agencies are getting adequate notice of transactions that might harm competition," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “This will help us continue to keep tech markets open and competitive, for the benefit of consumers.
  • The FTC is conducting the inquiry using its Section 6(b) power, which allows the agency to seek business information for a wide-ranging study that is not part of a specific law enforcement investigation.
  • But, in a call with reporters, Simons wouldn't rule out the study ultimately leading to enforcement action. He said all options are on the table, including unwinding acquisitions that the agency finds to be anticompetitive.

Go deeper

Hawley seeks overhaul of the Federal Trade Commission

Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-Mo.). Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

GOP Sen. Josh Hawley's frustration with the FTC's policing of the tech industry has prompted him to propose taking the more-than-100-year-old agency off of merger reviews and turning what remains into a wing of the Justice Department.

The big picture: The FTC has been under fire from both Republicans and Democrats calling for tougher action on Big Tech; Hawley's pitch is to hand the agency's competition authority to the DOJ's antitrust division so that a reimagined FTC could hone its focus on privacy and other digital issues.

Big Tech braces for sprawling FTC acquisitions review

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday it will review the past decade of takeovers by tech giants Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. Not only the large ones, but also the hundreds of smaller ones that didn't trigger automatic antitrust reviews.

Why it matters: Apparently the FTC thinks it has a technique for getting toothpaste back into the tube. And that's before one considers the knotty logistics of unwinding something like Facebook/Instagram or some random Google acqui-hire from 2015.

VCs push back on DOJ antitrust concerns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Silicon Valley investors downplayed concerns that big tech companies inhibit startups, during a recent workshop hosted by the U.S. Justice Department and Stanford University's law school.

Why it matters: Antitrust regulators are paying increased attention to Silicon Valley's M&A culture.